Ark Schools delivers education insights in minutes, not months

Ark is an international education organization, with 34 schools in the United Kingdom and one in Delhi, India. Ark Schools is committed to the idea that “all children deserve a great education,” accepting children from unconventional economic and educational backgrounds.

Leaders at Ark use data to determine program success and track student progress. The old process of compiling relevant data and building dashboards took months of effort from several departments. In video 2, Joshua Perry, Director of Program Support speaks about how Ark needed a system that was fast and flexible, so that teachers and leaders could use the data to affect daily decisions.

To solve this need, Ark established a browser-based system on Tableau Server, where users can access analytics from almost anywhere. In video 1, Joshua describes how they built their “governor dashboard” in 2 minutes and 22 seconds and it continues to be a key visualization across the organization. Users can see a holistic view of the network of schools or drill down into an individual school to identify areas of opportunity or improvement.

Tableau: What’s your data storage situation and how does Tableau fit in?
Joshua Perry, Director of Program Support: Our team has for many years now built and maintained systems that our schools use to understand data. We've improved and refined some of the techniques. But, essentially we have a data warehouse that takes data from all of our schools, from multiple systems.

So we have something we call our governor dashboard and it's a key visualization within Ark. It shows people progress and attainment over time and our governing bodies and senior leaders use it to understand how our schools are doing.

Now when we first built that, we built it in the way that we always used to build products and it took us around a month to build it. That's a month of elapsed time, but probably about a month of effort time when you add up all the people that contributed to that process.

But the eureka moment for us was when we tried to recreate that in Tableau. And we have ourselves on video doing it and it took us 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

Tableau: That’s a dramatic difference.
Joshua: If we can create visualizations in Tableau it's so much quicker, it's so much faster, and it will push us towards the best practice in what a report should look like, what will actually get great results from the users, and a better understanding of what that data is telling people.

You're not just looking at it for fun. You're not just looking at it to create pretty pictures. You're looking at it to make different management decisions. Now why am I talking about that in the context of Tableau? It's because the visualization aspect of Tableau over what traditional tools have been able to provide in data—where there's much more tabular data—is that it just gets you to the conclusion much faster, and therefore what action you should take.

And I think that's been hugely valuable to us, but I also think it's something we can bring to the wider education sector.

What that means for a teacher is when they're not in their classrooms, when they're in a staff room or on their personal device, they can log in and they can see visualizations of their class data and act upon that information.

Enough flexibility for the school, office, or mobile

Tableau: Tell us about Ark Schools.
Joshua: Ark is an education organization with the purpose of transforming children's lives. We work in the UK and internationally. I guess what we're best known for is that we run schools as academies in the UK. We're international in our focus. But then alongside the schools, we also run education programs that have the goal of improving education outcomes.

Tableau: How do you use Tableau?
Joshua: So we use Tableau, my team builds and maintains some systems that all of our people in our schools network use to look at and understand data. Essentially the goal is to make it as simple as possible for users to not just understand the data—which is what Tableau does—but also to access the data. And Tableau is great for that too, through the Server functionality.

Tableau: Who uses Tableau at Ark?
Joshua: Our vizzes are used by, I think it's fair to say, literally everyone in the school's organization from trustees through to trainee teachers. So we have deliberately built our suite of Tableau reports so that in theory, the data that people are seeing really has to do with the level of aggregation that's appropriate for their role title.

So if you're a trainee teacher, you're interested in data that has to do with the class that you're teaching right now and the relative progress of the people in that class. But, if you're a trustee you care about that detail. You just care about it in a greater level of aggregation. You care about what's happening across the network, but you still want to be able to drill down to see what's happening in an individual school or even further.

Tableau: Where do people use Tableau?
Joshua: Well, we produce as a team browser-based analytics tools that we deliver to all of our users—whether they're in schools, or a central office, or wherever they are, as long as they have credentials to log in.

So it may be that they're looking at it at home on a personal device. It may be that they're looking at it on a staff room, and like I say, as long as they know and understand their own secure credentials, they can use it either way.

Tableau: Why is this flexibility so important?
Joshua: That flexibility and where you can get access to the data is really important for our teachers, because as I've said this is really a tool that we want people to use to improve the outcomes for the children in their class. In order to do that, you need to have very regular access to that data. You need to be able to look at that data as you're planning curriculum for the next day, the next week, the next month, the next term. And you could be doing that from anywhere. So our teachers need to be able to get access to that data from anywhere.

What that means for a teacher is when they're not in their classrooms, so when they're in a staff room or on their personal device, they can log in and they can see visualizations of their class data and act upon that information.

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