£7bn 363 colleges 4.2m learners 263,257 staff

The smiley face of stats

Channel 4 is investing in a way of making Ofsted reports easy to understand by parents.

Report Card will “bring together multiple data sets to provide a newly accessible way of researching and comparing schools. This product will go beyond the idea of league tables to show schools in context and provide a meaningful interpretation of what they are really like – the atmosphere, internal organisation, teaching standards, facilities, discipline and much more”


An achingly cool design consultancy which takes blindingly innovative approaches to design has developed the concept to this stage. One example of their work is the curved map which includes both a 3D view and a bird’s eye view of a city

Curved Manhattan : click to enlarge

So what are they doing with Ofsted stats ?

They started with the fact that people pay attention to faces – they look for faces, are used to looking at faces, and get a lot of information about what is going on from faces .

Their Flickr group “Hello Little Fella” collects the faces that we see in everyday objects, and they then applied  the concept of   Chernoff faces to sports statistics

Here the various aspects of a team’s performance is reflected in the face – the mouth position shows the number of runs scored; the hair various type of win you can have in baseball; the left eye some type of home run, the right eye the number of stolen bases.

Ok – still quite difficult to interpret – but at least it is “at a glance”, and all the information on the team is there in a format which you are interested in looking at – the human face.

and it might be better with real faces – particularly if they weren’t real faces as here but computer generated.

However, the Berg London Report Card team went down a simpler route – by representing the individual institutions as building shapes, but putting a simplified face on the end of each shape – like Thomas the Tank Engine

Here three aspects of performance – as in the pie charts – are transformed into small Chernoff faces , the idea being that ‘at a glance’  you can see what is going on.

Parents could then look for a “smiling”  school if they wanted ,say,  success over 80%; but a “red-roofed” school if they were more interested in,say, good safeguarding.

However crude this seems , it is worth bearing in mind that Channel 4 have put £100,000 into this so far.

The design agency used real data from the Ofsted Annual report 2008-09 to try to use these faces to disentangle the Daily Mail headline “ A Lesson in incompetence : 1 in 3 schools fail to provide adequate teaching”

The results are – as they say – not there yet, but they have made an impressive start with some real, and complex data.

Watch this space for Record Card as it develops further!


February 5, 2010 - Posted by | data, info tech, SMART goals | , , ,

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