The importance of data in education is now well accepted and schools have become adept at gathering and storing lots of data about pupils and their achievements. Many teachers have become expert at using achievement data to plan lessons, design seating plans, identify underachievement and to analyse performance of their classes at various points in the year.
As a data consultant with SISRA, I know only too well the challenges faced by school staff at all levels and work hard in my job (and often my free time) to help teachers overcome their data phobias. There are perceived barriers in almost every school I visit, but the good news is that they are (nearly all) surmountable!
Helping staff to overcome barriers to using data really depends on whether they can’t or won’t ‘do data’. In addition to those who can’t or won’t, there are also those who ‘can’ and ‘will’ – the people I like to refer to as the ‘champions’. These are the people who will help make data training a success in your school and can help drive data use from the staffroom. Encouraging these champions to get involved with the training sessions can have a positive impact on the attitudes of other staff, which will hopefully permeate all levels of the school hierarchy.
Those who can’t do data…
‘I’m rubbish with computers’
Let’s face it, everyone sometimes feels the familiar pang of frustration that technology can sometimes cause, but for those who really struggle using office applications and management systems, the defences are up before they have even accessed the data they need. Having a knowledgeable and patient data manager can help, but helpful guides, handouts and reminders will also make staff feel genuinely supported. Weekly drop in sessions are a great way to support any staff wanting extra help, and running refreshers at busy times might just reduce the stress levels, especially during report writing periods for example. Creating a dedicated area on your school VLE is a great way to store handouts and guidance so they can be accessed easily by those who need them.
‘I don’t have time!’
It is important for staff to be able to access key data at times and places convenient to them which is why web-based applications and management systems are becoming common place. Many of us work from home on a regular basis and so being able to access data via the web can allows teachers the required flexibility. Many schools now have data on the agenda for every faculty meeting and set aside time, either at the start of a lesson, or during form time where pupils can access their own data and discuss with a member of staff. How about protected time around data collection windows? For some schools, that’s a step too far :).
Won’t do data
‘Let me get back to my actual job’
Teaching staff must feel that using data is worthwhile and will contribute to teaching and learning overall in order for them to use precious time interrogating and analysing it. In other words, if teachers cannot see how the data can impact on teaching and learning, you have little chance of persuading them to use it. Demonstrating the relevance of the data to teachers can be achieved with high quality training; either provided by a willing person in school or an external consultant. This type of training can be particularly effective in small groups of teachers from different faculties. Grouping staff and asking them to examine pupils in a given teaching group based on progress from KS2-4, progress towards target and subject residual, can highlight where pupils are responding to a particular member of staff or topic. One of the best parts of my job is having detailed discussions about specific pupils when I am on-site at a school. Looking at the performance of a pupil across all the subjects they take can reveal some surprises, and further discussion can allow sharing of practice between faculties. Comparisons with National Residuals allows staff to see how their classes compare with other pupils across the country.
‘What are you going to do with it?’
Performance management and performance-related pay are pertinent topics at the moment, which is vilifying data even further and there is unfortunately much mistrust around the use of exam results and lesson observation data to inform performance management. Senior leaders can promote trust by allowing class teachers to observe them, and use the same data to evaluate performance in the same way that they will be judged. During training, senior leaders could use their own group to demonstrate where a pupils is underachieving, or perhaps look at their own exam results from the previous year. Having an open and transparent system for data analysis can also promote honest discussion without the secrecy that has historically surrounded these types of data.
I believe that most people can learn to use data well, and some will even grow to love it! Senior leaders with responsibility for data can often find themselves alone in their enthusiasm; however a ‘whole school approach’ to data is the only way it will ever be truly embedded and used to maximum effect.