A Simple Guide to Microsoft Power BI in Multi-Academy Trusts and Schools


Multi-academy trusts (MATS) face particular challenges when they try to collect, organise and then report on data.

  • Data can be stored in different systems in different schools.
  • The central trust team wants a whole-trust view.
  • MATS and schools can be short on technical resources. Staff are busy and don’t always have the time or expertise needed to get an efficient solution up and running.
  • Trusts have different stakeholders with different reporting requirements.
  • Schools generate large amounts of data - it can be difficult to find useful, actionable insights.

A solution built with Microsoft Power BI can address these challenges.

What is Microsoft Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI is a suite of business intelligence tools that you can use to create and share interactive data visualisations and reports.

The key components of Power BI include:

  • Microsoft Power BI Desktop - free, runs on Windows. You use it to connect to data and write reports.
  • Data connectors that allow you to pull data into Power BI from different sources - data sources that include cloud-based data warehouses, MS Excel files and .CSV exports from other management information systems.
  • The Power BI online service - so you can share interactive reports with colleagues.
  • Power BI mobile apps for iOS & Android

Power BI is part of the Microsoft Power Platform - a wider ecosystem of applications and technologies that you can use to build data capture, management and reporting solutions.

What are the benefits of Microsoft Power BI in a multi-academy trust context?

A data management and reporting solution that includes Power BI may be the right choice for your trust for the following reasons:

  1. Microsoft Power BI Desktop - the report authoring application - is free.
  2. It’s easy to get started. Microsoft (and others) provide a lot of free, very high quality online resources. The barrier to entry is low.
  3. With Power BI you can import data from different schools and create a single, central source of truth. For example, if you can get each school in your trust to export attendance data from their own MIS in MS Excel (or .CSV) format, then you can import those files into Power BI Desktop. The files will be automatically merged into a single dataset that you can then report on.
  4. Licences for the online Power BI service are available at a discount for MATs and schools.

Reducing the time spent collecting, collating, copying and data between spreadsheets is an important goal of any data management strategy. That is definitely achievable in the short-term with Power BI, but there are two other longer-term benefits:

  1. You start to build a more data driven culture. Colleagues get access to accurate, up-to-data data that they can then use to make better decisions.
  2. It becomes much easier to find actionable insights in your data.

Over time you can extend your Power BI based data management solution with other technologies from the Microsoft Power Platform. For example, you could develop - at a relatively low cost - a data capture application with Microsoft Power Apps. Your ‘app’ will run inside MS Teams and the data you collect can be analysed with Power BI.

How easy is it to get started?

It’s not too difficult to get started as long as you have someone who has the time and inclination to start building simple reports in Power BI Desktop.

As a easy first step you - or someone else in your MAT - could decide to use Power BI to create an interactive report about student attendance :

  1. Download Power BI Desktop - remember it is free.
  2. Start with some simple data.
  3. It could be a simple student attendance report. Alternatively, do you run student satisfaction surveys? We have an earlier post that shows you how to use a simple Power BI report to explore and analyse student satisfaction data.
  4. Build your report - import your data and start with one or two pages of visuals. student satisfaction report
  5. Purchase Power BI Pro licences for some of your staff - you may have some already. Your IT team will know how to buy the licences.
  6. Upload the report online and share with colleagues.

What's next?

What you really want to do is automate the loading and updating of data - so that you don’t need to manually import spreadsheets each time you want to update your Power BI report.

You can do this in Power BI. The online Power Service allows you to schedule a data refresh for your shared report - it will work as long as your report is connected to a data source that is regularly updated.

For example, if your MAT is an Arbor customer, you can connect to the Arbor data warehouse from Microsoft Power Desktop. You can then build a report using data from the data warehouse. When you upload your report to the online Power BI service, the Arbor data warehouse connection credentials are also uploaded. This allows the online service to periodically (you set the frequency) check the data warehouse for new data.

You can also schedule updates from MS Excel - if you use MS SharePoint. The online service can be configured to check a shared SharePoint folder for updates. Your shared Power BI report will update automatically every time you update the MS Excel files in your SharePoint folder.

Conclusion

These are four things to keep in mind if you are thinking about how you could use Microsoft Power BI in your MAT:

  1. Identify someone in your organisation who can become your Power BI expert - someone who can begin to understand how reports are built and who wants to understand the wider solution.
  2. Start with a simple report that is focused on just one thing. For example, attendance or student assessments in one key stage. Who is the key stakeholder for the report? A simple report shouldn’t have more than 2 or 3 pages.
  3. Several small reports are better than fewer larger reports - it’s easier to tailor small reports to the right audience/stakeholders. Smaller reports are also easier to maintain, update and debug when the data doesn’t look right.
  4. Set up the online Power BI service so you can share reports with colleagues.

You should aim to develop a reporting solution that cuts down on admin time, simplifies data analysis and makes it easier to spot patterns and relationships in data that can then be used to improve education outcomes.



Find out more about our Microsoft Power BI service for schools and MATS

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