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Data Strategy: A Discussion with Gary Henderson

Gary Henderson

We were delighted to sit down with Gary Henderson, Director of IT at Millfield School, who delves into the crucial importance of having a data strategy in schools today. 
Gary has worked in schools and colleges for over 25 years, as a teacher and senior leader in the UK before periods working with international schools in the Middle East and more recently in his current role as Director of IT at Millfield, a large UK Independent School.

Ahead of his upcoming session at The EdTech Summit 2023, Gary discusses the importance of data driven decision making, measuring the impact of data strategy, data management and much more.

Data plays a crucial role in education today. In your opinion, what are the key components of a successful digital data strategy for a school? 

The digital strategy within schools should align with the wider school values and needs to include consideration of the pedagogy, training, curriculum but also technical issues such as data protection, cyber security, sustainability, etc. Each schools digital strategy should also consider their local context and needs as each school is different. Part of the strategy should also consider the schools approach to data, and their data strategy.

In terms of data strategy it is key to know what data you have, where it is stored and who is responsible for it. And the responsibility side of things is very important in that data isn't owned by the IT team but by process owners so the pastoral team own pastoral data, the academic team own academic data, etc.  


Teacher and staff involvement is crucial in data-driven decision-making. How do you engage educators in the process of data collection and analysis to inform instructional practices? 

There is a key balance to be reached here as teachers roles should be focused on teaching and not data management or data analysis. As such, it is about trying to make the maximum use of the data available and making data easy to access and interrogate for teachers, heads of department, etc. I suspect AI may provide some solutions here in its ability to both gather data on learners and also in its ability to analyse data for patterns or anomalies.    

Assessing the impact of data strategies is essential. How do you measure the success of your digital data strategy in terms of student achievement and overall school improvement?

Impact of digital strategy has always been difficult to measure and will continue to be difficult to measure.  Education isn't about one single thing. It isn't about just exam results, but about developing rounded students who are life-long learners and aware of the current world and local challenges, such as the environment, challenges around big data, social media and AI, etc. As such I think it is for each school, school group or MAT to decide the “why” of their digital strategy, and in doing so decide what they hope to achieve and how they will measure this.


Looking ahead, what emerging trends or technologies in educational data management and analytics do you believe will shape the future of digital data strategies in schools?

AI is the significant talking point in the world and in education and it comes with benefits in its ability to gather, infer and analyse data, but then comes with risks in relation to data protection, cyber security, bias, accuracy and ethics. I would suggest the increasing use of AI in schools has to potential to reshape education and hopefully free up some teacher time for focusing on teaching, learning and the social side of schools. I would also suggest that as we move forward we will need to consider how technology is helping to optimise the work we do and how this balances with the need to have teachers, students and a wider community of individuals who lead fulfilled lives, who flourish.


If you enjoyed this interview and would like to see more discussions with the industries key voices in EdTech, you can check the EdTech Summit Blog for more.

You can also now register to attend the EdTech Summit 2023, held at the NEC, Birmingham on 22nd November 2023.