Many schools and multi academy trusts are looking to improve their data analytics capabilities. Business intelligence tools like Microsoft Power BI can help you take your data to the next level with automated insights and visualisations that generate new insights.

What is business intelligence?

Business intelligence is a term used to describe a set of tools and techniques that can be used to analyse data and make better business decisions. It is generally used by large organisations and businesses, but it can also be applied to schools and multi academy trusts (MATs) to help them make better decisions. Business intelligence is usually associated with improving efficiency in the way a business operates; for example, knowing where your most productive employees are working on which days could help you plan your resources more effectively. The same principle applies when applied in schools: by measuring how much progress each pupil makes over time, we can identify struggling pupils at risk of dropping out early from education altogether.

What is Microsoft Power BI?

Power BI is a cloud-based business intelligence tool that helps you access, analyze and visualize your data. You don’t need to install any files on your PC or laptop – it works wherever you have a browser and internet connection.

Power BI can receive data from many different kinds of sources – your school pupil database, an excel spreadsheet, your finance system etc., then it cleanses the data into a common format before finally presenting it as charts, tables and reports. Power BI is also an analytics tool which can make sense of the big numbers – combining them with other datasets to make predictions about future trends or develop new insights into existing ones. It’s an excellent way of looking at things holistically rather than focusing on separate areas in isolation because this way we can identify trends that might otherwise go unnoticed if they were just considered individually (for example: what impact does changing attendance patterns have on exam results?).

Power BI vs Excel – what are the differences?

Power BI is a cloud-based business intelligence tool, whereas Excel is an on-premise, desktop tool, it has much more sophisticated functionality than Excel and is also much easier to use. It’s more user-friendly and flexible, allowing users to create interactive reports that are visual and collaborative in nature.

Power BI was originally launched by Microsoft as “Microsoft Business Intelligence” but was later renamed ‘Power Pivot for Excel’. In 2016 it became its own separate product, fully independent from Excel. The two products share some similarities but have no overlap in terms of functionality or ease of use

How business intelligence tools like Power BI can help your school

From school leaders to teachers, Power BI gives you the ability to make data-driven, evidenced decisions that can help improve your students’ experience. With Power BI, you can identify trends and patterns in student numbers, behaviour, assessment or attendance and cross-reference your students’ backgrounds and vulnerabilities. You can also track staff absences, prior attainment, KS2 results, GCSE grades, attendance percentages or student satisfaction surveys – all from within one platform.

When it comes to improving your school communication by creating and sharing new analyses quickly (and without any IT skills), Power BI makes this simple, too:

  • Create reports tailored for each audience using rich visualisations that help them understand the insights hidden in your data and use embedded dashboards to keep your audience up-to-date with the latest information and insights.
  • Share these insights across the entire organisation with just one click so everyone on staff has access to key information at their fingertips —and can easily update it when new insights emerge.

How does business intelligence generate new insights in my school data?

Power BI is a tool that allows you to connect to your data, and then create visualisations and dashboards. It is easy to use, and can be used by a range of people in your school. It works with all the main pupil databases: SIMS, Arbor, Bromcom etc. It is also possible to connect it to your own databases and data sources, including Excel files and other school systems such as HR or Finance. Once you have created some visualisations, Power BI allows you to share them with other people in the school who can then edit these dashboards themselves if they wish.

Once connected, you will be able to see information on whole schools, year groups or classes. You can drill down from large pupils groups (whole school, year groups) down to individual pupils which will enable you to gain new insights into their performance over time.

What are the first steps for adopting Power BI in my School?

If you want to explore what Power BI can do for your school, I recommend one of the following approaches:

1) Self service: Ask you school data manager to download the free Power BI Desktop software. You’ll find that there are lots of online help forums and YouTube videos that describe how to use Power BI. The advantage of this approach is that it is free but the disadvantage is that your data staff may need extra support to get started with Power BI.

2) Professional services: If you want to avoid the above issues, then you can engage a Power BI consultant who will work with your school data team to build a self-service Power BI solution. This approach has been tried and tested in many schools and colleges around the world. The advantage of this approach is that it is cost effective and will deliver a working system, but you will need to make sure that your consultant understands the needs of schools and MATs.

3) Hybrid approach: A mix of options 1 and 2 above and one that I personally favour – working closely with a consultant to both train your staff and work hand in hand with your staff to develop a finished system. Once the consultant has finished working with your team, your team will have all the skill to further develop and refine your data analyses.


In conclusion, business intelligence tools like Power BI can help your school to gain new insights from your existing data. If you want to explore the possibilities, you can download Power BI Desktop and start learning Power BI today.