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The use of data management systems for e-leadership and school improvement
Year of posting: 2014
The rapid advancement of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) together with the demand of society has had a huge impact on the educational system. Recently the use of data management systems has become an important tool for e-leadership and school improvement. The data management systems allow e-leadership to make evidence-based decisions and enrich the flow of information within the schools. This small-scale study examines the support primary target tracker; a data management system provides to an infant school, based in the East Midlands. Semi-structured questionnaires were distributed in the academic year 2013-2014 in the summer term; with 4 out of 7 who responded. To provide a more in-depth analysis, the questionnaire was also handed out to the deputy teacher.
The results and feedback from the questionnaire indicated that target tracker is providing extensive support for the school. This is via analysing pupil progress, evaluating teaching and learning, managing teachers performance and improving on the schools performance by comparing data; thus increasing the pedagogical effectiveness of the school. E-leadership allows the school to quickly monitor any implementations and promote evidence-based decisions, in order to raise the level of pupil achievement and school improvement. In order to enhance e-leadership and school improvement with the support of target tracker, the recommendations would be for e-leadership to monitor the level of teacher activity with target tracker and observe pedagogical meetings to evaluate how effective target tracker is to presenting data to outside agencies and government bodies. Lastly to conduct further studies on target tracker with a larger sample group and compare the findings.
technology, e-leadership, data management systems, school improvement
Context and background
In recent years the use of technology has supported teacher assessments to enable them to understand where the children are in terms of their targets. This immediately allows teachers and leadership to gather information on pupils’ with specific learning gaps and integrate this into their planning. To elaborate further, schools use data management systems to compile all the pupils’ assessments quickly, which can be shared with members of staff within the school. As Bernhardt’s (2005:1) research states that ‘without data tools, our vision of data-smart schools is merely a dream’.
This research was implemented in a large infant school, which is based within the East Midlands. The proportions of pupils are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), which is known to be higher than most other schools. There is a wide range of minority ethnic pupils attending the school, of which some are at early stages of acquiring English. The infant school invested in a data management system at the start of the academic year 2013-2014 called target tracker. Target tracker was developed in 1999, after head teachers in Essex needed a solution for their assessment recording and analysis (Target Tracker, 2014). Target tracker can be purchased by schools in two different versions; either the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) version or the primary target tracker version, which is for both Key Stage (KS) 1 and 2. This small-scale research will solely focus on the benefits and drawbacks of the primary target tracker in KS1. The data was gathered by distributing questionnaires to 7 KS1 teachers of which 4 are also subject leaders, 1 is the Special Education Needs co-ordinator (SENco) and 1 is the deputy head teacher. The study explores, (1) why is it important to have a data management system in the school, (2) does it have an impact on pupils’ progress, and (3) how has target tracker supported the e-leadership and school improvement.
This particular topic was chosen, as the school is keen on understanding how the data management system supports the staff within the school as well as the pupils. Collating reliable data is important for every school and the research became more apparent when these views where shared with the head teacher and the use of target tracker. Another reason for choosing this particular research was because primary target tracker’s effectiveness has not been previously analysed. After speaking with Chris Smith, who is head of the service and agreed that the target tracker needs more exploration within schools. Therefore it was important to commence the research within this field to help fill the gap in research.
The literature review will discuss the definition of e-leadership and school improvement, leading on to the importance of data management systems and how it supports educational settings. Following this, the report will look at the implementation of questionnaires focusing on the advantages and disadvantages, as well as ethical issues. This will move on to presenting the findings that will support the analysis of the research. The final conclusions will sum up the research and add any recommendations for both the school as well as implementation for future research.
Schools in England have access to a wide range of educational statistics. These statistics include background variable of pupils and schools, school performance, inspection reports and details of performance in the statutory national curriculum test (Kirkup et al., 2005). A large issue in England is the underlying ethos of the use of information. As the work of Black and William (1998) reflected in the articles of the ‘inside the black box’ that assessment is key component of raising standards in the classroom, and ensuring teaching and learning outcomes are met. Thus indicating that data is fundamental in order to lead school effectiveness and improvements.
The main role of an educational leadership is to maintain the school environment, promoting the teaching and learning of pupils’ (Chirichello, 2010). As Burns (1978) describes the traditional role of a leadership as one member who controls and influences the behaviours of others, in order to achieve the same common goals. Leadership plays a key role in order to maintain the school effectiveness. In contrast to traditional leadership, the term e-leadership has been widely used by a variety of researchers such as; Chamakiotis and Panteli (2011), Gurr (2004), and Blau and Presser (2013). The term e-leadership is defined as when a member of leadership is able to effect the behaviour of others in a technology influenced environment and when decision-making is empowered by technology (Chamakiotis and Panteli, 2011). Although, Gurr (2004) states that research on e-leadership is at an early stage and more research needs to be acquired. This paper will adopt the term e-leadership, which was used by Gurr (2004), Blau and Presser (2013) as the school is using data management systems for updating pedagogical data and making evidence based decisions to maintain the school effectiveness and improvement. This notion is supported by Kirkup et al. (2005) who believes that data management is key in order to make evidence-based discussions as well as decisions. As Younie and Leask (2013) identified that technology tools facilitate the communication between a wide range of organisations to share knowledge and educational outcomes.
Is e-leadership a new form of leadership? Avolio and Dodge (2000) provide a review of studies to explore leaderships in environments, by stipulating a definition and a framework guide to our understanding of the term e-leadership. However, Avolio and Dodge use the term ‘Advanced Information Technology (AIT)’ rather than e-leadership; they define AIT as ‘new context of leadership’ that enables ‘multiparty participation’ using tools, techniques and knowledge (p. 616-617). This demonstrates that the literature already presented is similar to Avolio and Dodge notions, however the contribution of their research shows the coevolution between the use of technology and leadership can be considered as ‘e-leadership’. Furthermore, as Gurr (2004) indicated that the role of e-leadership requires further research; this concept was underlined by Avolio and Dodge (2000) who also emphasises that further research needs to study the role of e-leadership over a longer period of time and study the impact of technology on e-leadership.
It is important to also define the term ‘school improvement’ as it plays a vital role within this research. Hopkins (2001) defines school improvement as a distinct approach to educational change that aims to enhance pupil outcomes and strengthen the schools capacity for managing change. Aston et al. (2013) adopts the middle tier approach (see appendix: 1), which involves a range of outside agencies and government bodies that operate between the schools to enhance school improvement i.e. Local Authorities (LAs), OFSTED. Although DfE (2010) states the primary responsibility for school improvement rests with the school, and the wider system should be designed so that leaders can take greater responsibility. The DfE is therefore recommending that school improvement is driven within the educational sector rather than external input or a hierarchical structure. In contrast, Mourshed’s et al. (2012) international review supports the notion of Aston et al. (2013) and outlines that the middle tier is imperative to sustain school improvement. The middle tier is always in practice whether it is OFSTED visits, governors attending the school or a wide range of external bodies visiting the school to support the pupils such as; a speech and language therapist, behavior support team. They all play a vital role to ensure the school is supporting the pupils’ and promotes the school to make improvements within their practice.
Target tracker is useful for the middle tier approach, as the data management system allows the school to share the data quickly and effectively with the governors, LA, OFSTED, parents and practitioners in the school (see appendix: 1). Target tracker is a sustainable system as it is adaptive, promotes shared aims and provides an agreed framework for the school according to Aston et al. (2013). The data management system allows the school to improve on their work patterns, especially in the area of decision-making which is grounded on evidence-based data; which is a fundamental component for school improvement. Target tracker enables e-leadership and members of staff to analyse and share assessment data, work with specific groups of pupils and identify trends; annotations can be made for pupils with any concerns. Furthermore, it can be shared immediately and target tracker is available instantly outside of the school premises, which LA has approved (Target tracker, 2014).
The school studied in this research supports the notion of Aston et al. (2013) from the perspective that the outside bodies are essential for school effectiveness and improvement, as they will expertise in various areas. Each member of the school has access to the data management system, however only certain members of staff can amend data depending on his or her position. By implementing a data management system in schools, Blau and Hameiri (2012) state that the data in the system is only valuable if most of the teaching staff are entering the data and using the system on a regular basis. Therefore, it is more productive to include the process of implementation of the data management system with all the teaching staff, rather than in a hierarchal form or gradual adaptation. Moreover, Fuchs (1995) considers that the implementation should be adopted by all participants who are involved in the process; parents, teachers, children. However, the school that is being studied in this research has only allowed the teaching staff to access, amend and analyse the data; not teaching assistants or support staff.
It is the role of school leaders to promote technological change within education, which will promote data- based decision making for school improvement (Tan, 2010). This is through identifying goals, considering the strengths and weaknesses of interventions and teaching, developing high performance targets by using the data management system, which will promote e-leadership. Target tracker can help track the needs of pupils more efficiently by tracking their learning outcomes, social behaviour, attendance, FSM ratio, pupil premium, what interventions the pupils are attending, pupils who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL), race, gender, age and many more. The system provides on-demand and up-to-date data at different levels such as; class, individual pupils, interventions, subjects, or data on the entire school. For example, Wayman et al. (2008) conducted research on data management systems, and described how one school used a data management system to track and provide suitable support for pupils ‘at-risk’.
Supporting Hameiri’s (2012) notion that teaching staff should regularly update the data in order for the data management system to support the school. Crooks (1988) states that data should be used to measure the progress of pupils, inform pupils of their progress, provide feedback to teachers as well as pupils on how they can improve which essentially leads to school improvement. However, Knapp et al. (2006) considers, that although data management systems are useful in collating large amount of pupil data, which enables schools to analyse areas of weakness and strengths, it is unable to provide strategies on how to improve. This responsibility lies with the e-leadership team to make informative decisions that are evidence-based.
It is important to consider the methodological standpoint when undertaking research. The following discussion will analyse the benefits and drawbacks of research methods in relation to this research. However, as this is a small-scale research triangulation has not been used due to time constraints. The research has only adapted with one methodological approach to gather data on target tracker. Triangulation is defined by Cohen et al. (2000) as applying more than two techniques in order to gather data. In addition, Burton et al. (2008) adds that triangulation increases accuracy to research. However, drawbacks of using triangulation are that it takes up a huge amount of time, which has been identified by a variety of researchers (Diehl et al., 2002, 2011; Flandorfer and Wegner, n.d; Wang, 2013). This research was approached using an interpretive view as the research aims to analyse target tracker rather than providing it as an objective (Denscombe, 2010). As Denscombe (2010: 236) emphasises that interpretive researchers seek to collect ‘value-laden’ data, which is shaped through the experience of both the researcher and the participants involved.
As Bell (2010) highlighted that the sampling plays a vital role when collating data for a research project. Bell adds that is important to take into consideration the amount of time the researcher has on their project, which will greatly affect the outcomes of the research. However, O’hara et al. (2011) adds that sampling ensures that the researcher is not being biased, thus adding validity and reliability to the research project. This research has adapted a purposive sampling technique (O’hara et al., 2011), which has been stratified to KS1, focusing on the teachers and a member of the e-leadership (deputy head teacher). Purposive sampling technique is the deliberate choice of participants due to the qualities they present (Bernard et al., 1986). Bernard (2002) adds that as the researcher chooses what needs to be studied, therefore choosing participants are willing to provide information on their experience and share their knowledge is imperative.
Data gathering is crucial, as the data will contribute to a better understanding of the research topic. This research used a semi-structured questionnaire to gather data in order to analyse the importance of target tracker, how it supports e-leadership and school improvement.
A total of 7 questionnaires were distributed to the following; with 4 questionnaires completed:
Deputy head, teacher and maths co-ordinator
SENco and teacher
ICT co-ordinator and teacher
Literacy co-ordinator and teacher
Science co-ordinator and teacher
Design and technology co-ordinator and teacher
There are many forms of questionnaires that are used to gather data for research purposes. Questionnaires are not devised to provide participants with more information or to change their view, but to discover their knowledge and opinions (Denscombe, 2010). Questionnaires have already been applied to research based on the effectiveness of data management systems by Kirkup et al. (2005). The research sent out questionnaires to 1,820 participants; this included head teachers and head of departments to identify how the schools use the data for teaching and learning. To allow the participants to understand the research thoroughly, Kirkup et al. sent letters accompanying the questionnaire to ensure the participants understood what the questionnaire involved.
As with any research methods, each has its advantages and disadvantages when utilised. Denscombe (2010) presents a variety of advantages when using questionnaires. One of the suggestions being that questionnaires are economical in the sense that they do not require as many materials and therefore time saving. Questionnaires are also easy to arrange unlike interviews, as they can be distributed online, post or as a hard copy. Cohen et al. (2011) and Denscombe (2010) both state that using questionnaires will be more comfortable for the participants to answer the questions, as there will be no judgements or pressure from the researcher. As the participants are in a busy schedule, distributing the questionnaires was a more convenient method to undertake.
However a major disadvantage of questionnaires as mentioned by Bell (2010) is the low response rate. As Bell emphasises that low-response rates reduce opinions that can restrict the research. Therefore questionnaires require the researcher to encourage participants to respond and complete the questionnaires. In addition, Cohen et al. (2011) believes researchers should add cover letters with the questionnaires, outlining the aims and objectives of the research project, which also encourages replies. The structure of the questionnaire is also imperative to ensure all the data gathered is beneficial. Cohen et al. (2011) discusses that when writing up questionnaires it is important to avoid leading questions, and allow the participant to answer according to their own knowledge. However, Denscombe (2010) adds that a questionnaire does not provide the researcher with an opportunity to check the truthfulness, as the researcher may not have met the participant, unlike an interview. However, this has been avoided in this research, as the researcher communicates with the participants on a daily basis.
In relation to this study, the questionnaire deemed appropriate due to time constraints and the responsibility of the participants within this research study. The semi-structured questionnaire allowed the participants to have the opportunity present their views when answering the questionnaires without being pressured.
Ethical issues are imperative to consider when conducting educational research. Firstly permission was considered and granted by the school before embarking the research and distributing the questionnaires. The research adhered to the schools policy and procedures. The research complied with the BERA Ethical guidelines for Educational research (2011) in order to ensure all the procedures undertaken are accurate. The role of confidentiality and anonymity was essential, to ensure the participants felt safe when answering the questionnaire.
The participants that were willing to take part in the research were given a participant information sheet prior to the research. This outlines all the research aims and how the data will be collected. Once the participants accepted to be part of the research, they signed an informed consent form. This supported Cohen et al’s. (2011) notion that providing cover letters that outline the aims and objectives will encourage replies. All the participants within the research understood the process of the research, and were given the right to withdraw at any point of the research. The research guaranteed anonymity and the data analysed was kept on a laptop that was securely coded.
The findings from the questionnaires will be presented in this section and will be discussed later on in the report. There were 7 questionnaires that were distributed in KS1 including the deputy head teacher and 4 were returned.
Figure 1: The number of staff using target tracker in the school and all stated that target tracker was easy to use
Figure 2: Shows what specifically the staff use target tracker for
Figure 3: Shows the responses of how much of a difference target tracker makes to teaching and learning
Figure 4: Shows how effective the participants thought target tracker was to assess pupils’ progress
Figure 5: Shows the contribution target tracker provides to help evaluate the schools effectiveness and support school improvement
Figure 6: Shows some of the benefits of target tracker
Figure 7: Shows some of the disadvantages of target tracker
Figure 8: Shows what specifically the staff use the data for
Figure 9: Shows how additional sources on target tracker make a difference to teaching and learning in the school
Analysis and discussion
The semi-structured questionnaires were analysed using both qualitative and quantitative approach. The closed questions were analysed using a quantitative approach to present meaningful data in a numerical format. The open-ended questions were firstly coded using all 4 questionnaire responses, and identified similar themes and patterns that occurred. These were then organised into categories and each questionnaires open-ended responses were matched into the separate categories. Coding has been defined as a translation to the question responses, to a specific category in order to support the analysis (Kerlinger, 1970). In addition Cohen et al. (2011: 559) adds that ‘coding enables the researcher to identify similar information’. After completion of the coding, the findings were presented to the participants who responded, to ensure the researchers biased views were excluded.
Example of coding the open-ended questions;
Example of responses
Codes and categories
1. What are the benefits of target tracker and why is it important for the school?
Look at specific groups, shows the progress of children
Easy to use, Pupil Progress, Filter specific groups
2. What contribution has the use of pupil data made to your schools evaluation of its performance and school improvement?
Less time spent creating tables, more time to analyse groups and children with targeted support
Less time consuming, Evaluate the performance of intervention, teachers performance management
These codes and categories were generalised with all of the questionnaires and the number of similar responses were added to the relating category. The data was then added up numerically, which was presented using charts that are presented in the findings section.
The importance of data management systems in schools
Concerning the first research question, the study found that having a data management system in the school proved to be beneficial. This can be seen in figure 6, which shows some of the benefits of target tracker. Some of the responses that were recorded in the questionnaire were:
The deputy head:
‘It is easy to use target tracker and it quickly shows the percentage of children making good/satisfactory/slow progress’
Year one teacher:
‘Easy to use and efficient way to enter data’
Year two teacher and ICT co-ordinator:
‘It’s easy to use, you can regular check and keep an eye on children’s progress and helps look at specific individuals’
Year one teacher and SENco:
‘Supports staff in monitoring pupils progress, highlighting target groups and gives clear expectations for pupil attainment’
Target tracker is less time consuming and allows the staff within the school to quickly enter the data. As Blau and Hameiri’s (2012) research highlights that a data management system can only be useful, if teaching staff are inputting data. The responses to the questionnaire suggest that the teaching staff are inputting data on target tracker, however there is no specification of how often.
The data management system enables the staff to enter the data in quickly, which saves time and allows them to focus on other areas such as data analysis. This enables the staff to have access to the same information, promoting shared aims. As Aston et al’s. (2013) middle tier emphasises the importance of shared aims within a practice. Target tracker has promoted shared aims for the staff that are able to access the data at anytime. It is important for data management systems to be adaptive, as each member of staff will access the system at any point during the day. However, one of the drawbacks that was noted by the deputy head teacher was that she was unable to access the data at home (see figure: 7).
It was also noted that the system supports planning for the pupils. The instant flow of updated information on the system allows the teachers to quickly access the individual pupils attainments, and analyse what areas they need further support in. A year one teacher said in the questionnaire:
‘Target tracker allows you to look at the year group data and compare it to previous cohorts’
To add to the importance of data management systems in the school, the SENco states:
‘It is used to evaluate teachers performance management’
The questionnaires revealed that the data management system is not only useful for recording pupils’ achievements, but is also accessible for members of the leadership team to evaluate the performance of the teachers. The findings show that, target tracker is used by all four members of staff who returned the questionnaire, whom all find it easy to navigate through the system.
Data management systems for pupil progress
Regarding the second research question, it is clear that target tracker supported the pupils’ progress. The results indicate that the staff use target tracker to monitor the progress of a variety of interventions, subjects and their own class progress (see figure: 8). Based on this, one member of staff said that using target tracker supports planning of individual pupils. The teachers using the system can also access detailed information on specific groups by filtering throughout all the year groups. One participant believed that target tracker makes a great impact on teaching and learning and three participants believed it made a difference to some extent (see figure: 3). In addition, two participants believed that target tracker is effective for pupil progress to a great extent, and two participants believed to some extent. This shows that the staff use target tracker not only to assess the pupils, but it also appears to be making a difference to the teaching and learning process.
Most of the teachers, as well as taking on the role of teaching are subject leaders. Target tracker has significantly reduced the time of presenting the data as this can be quickly done using graphs and charts on the system. It briefly shows the pupils learning needs and allows the staff to highlight any gaps in the pupils learning. The ICT co-ordinator/ teacher stated:
‘You can quickly see the progress across all year groups and the core subjects’.
As the key message pointed out by Black and William (1998) was that assessments are essential in order to raise the standards of pupil learning and maintaining teaching. Without assessing the pupils it is difficult to understand how much support they require with their learning. This is supported by the ICT co-ordinator/ teacher:
‘It gives you a clearer picture of each child and clearly shows their progress. You are able to keep a close eye on how much support the child is receiving or quickly identify any pupils that are not making progress, and require some action to be taken. It helps for planning with these children’s needs too’
As previously mentioned, target tracker also allows the leadership to evaluate teachers performance. This supports Crooks (1988) research, which suggested that data can be used to measure the progress of both teachers and the learners. Therefore, it is imperative for the schools to monitor this in order to ensure the pupils are receiving the support and education they are entitled to, but also enhancing teaching.
Data management systems for e-leadership and school improvement
Lastly, the study shows how the data management system supports e-leadership and school improvement. The participants described how the system allows them to enhance pedagogical effectiveness of the school. Target tracker allows the staff and leadership to take evidence-based decisions on pupils’ progress, FSM, attendance, data on gifted and talented pupils, ethnic groups including EAL pupils and SEN pupils (see figure: 9). The system also maintains time management for the e-leadership, as the deputy head teacher/ teacher/ maths co-ordinator wrote:
‘Less time is spent creating tables and formulas to work out the progress of children. Target tracker allows me to do this a lot quicker. As a result I have more time to analyse and use the data to see which groups are making progress and which groups/children need more targeted support’.
Younie and Leask (2013) stated that in order to adapt successful technology change in schools, the impact of staff time is crucial. As if the teaching staff are spending majority of their time inputting data, it will leave less time for them to analyse the information. The school leaders play an imperative role in developing a positive school ethos; therefore they need to consider how they will incorporate technology tools within their practice.
Kirkup et al. (2005), Gurr (2004), Blau and Presser (2013) all believed it is imperative for leadership to make evidence-based decisions. In addition Chamakiotis and Panteli’s (2011) research indicated that this can be empowered by the use of technology. Thus, supporting the schools improvements, which according to Hopkins (2001) enhances pupils’ outcomes and strengthens the schools to managing change.
Aston et al.’s (2013) middle tier approach plays a vital for school improvement. As the school in this study supports the notion of Aston et al. and considers the role of external and government bodies to enhance the schools improvement. The school regularly use target tracker to support pupils individual needs, by using the data to create progress reports, charts and graphs to summarise the data. These are then presented to the governors, OFSTED or outside agencies that come into the school to provide individualised support. As the deputy head teacher/ teacher/ maths co-ordinator said:
‘Teachers and management have pupil data at the heart of school evaluation and improvements. Using target tracker allows us as a school to compile data for other members of staff in the school and outside agencies’.
Earl and Fullan (2003) state that using data wisely for decisions within the practice is more than gathering data and turning them into numbers; it is a process of interpretation and creating meaning. This will ultimately change to workable knowledge through which evidence-based decisions can be implemented.
Over the last decade, there has been a variety changes with the use of technology in schools. Schools purchase various hardware and software to support the teaching and learning of pupils’. To conclude, the study investigated the use of data management systems to support e-leadership and school improvement in an infant school. The results showed that the data management system; called target tracker, enabled e-leadership to take place as well as increasing the school improvement. The participant’s emphasised that one of the benefits of target tracker is that it effectively managed time, as inputting data in the system was straightforward. The effective use of target tracker has allowed the school to acknowledge the pupils’ everyday lives by monitoring their attendance, recognised the pupils’ progress quickly and addressing any learning gaps.
There has been an active involvement from senior leaders who have been dedicated to use technology and supported the innovation of target tracker. This supported teachers to embed it into their own pedagogy and curriculum planning. E-leadership strengthened evidence-based practice and decision making, monitoring the performance of pupil progress by addressing learning gaps, supporting teacher planning, evaluation of the interventions and also monitoring teachers’ performance. The staff also indicated that target tracker supports assessing the pupils through which they are able to identify any developments. As target tracker allowed the participants to create charts and graphs, to summarise the developments of various areas in the school. Target tracker has enabled the staff to make more informed decisions as they have enough time to analyse the pupil data. These directly led to improving e-leadership and enhance pedagogical effectiveness of the school. As Avolio and Dodge (2000: 633) state ‘the question is not whether to study e-leadership, but where to start’.
To enhance the role of e-leadership, the recommendations would be to monitor the level of teacher activity on target tracker. This can be undertaken by observing e-leadership behaviour in pedagogical meetings, with both the staff and outside agencies. It would be interesting to note the e-leadership behaviour by cross checking it with findings from an interview/discussion. The use of interviews will reveal the thoughts of the participants using target tracker, as by using questionnaires it is difficult to retrieve all the information. It will also be useful to also monitor the number of teaching assistants/support staff using target tracker and how it supports teaching and learning. Additionally, further research needs to explore the use of target tracker, with a larger sample including teachers and leaders. This will allow us to understand if data management systems support e-leadership and school improvement in a variety of schools to allow conclusions to be generalised.
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Appendix: 1 – Middle tier approach
Appendix: 1 - Middle tier approach
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