Monthly Archives: February 2014

If data were the ocean, I’d send you a float

I’ve been out and about a lot recently, visiting lots of schools to talk about both Observe and Analytics. It’s probably just one of those weeks but recently I feel that data is taking a backwards step and I’ve found myself having to bite my tongue on more than one occasion.

‘We do things differently here’

There are two sides to doing things differently. Of course, it could be that a school is being completely innovative and fresh, but what if  no one else is doing it because it’s actually not very good? If this is the case, and there is no room for discussion they may never know.

This could be coincidence and is of course based on my own experiences but it strikes me that the schools who ‘do things differently’ are more like to also be suffering with data overload. Not feeling quite ready to abandon the complex and intricate systems they have been developing in some cases, for years, they are increasing workload and spending money without a return on their investment.  I visited a school recently who were producing reams of paper after each assessment point (of which there were 6 per year group in a big school), printing them all out, and then diligently delivering to pigeon holes for middle leaders, year group leaders and class teachers. Not only is this resource and paper heavy but is it altogether the wrong approach. I would go so far as to say that it is actually detrimental to the data cause, one I feel committed to defending. How will this exercise improve or impact on teaching and learning? I couldn’t see how in this instance, and voiced diplomatically only to be stopped in my tracks with….(drum roll please).

‘We do things differently here’

Wood for trees?

As this post is intended to be helpful as opposed to musing, the below steps outline what I believe to be an effective, simplistic approach.

  1. Pick relevant data. Class teachers do not need to know what last year’s exam residual was for a subject they don’t teach, relevance is key here. Class teachers need specific information about the pupils in their classes, where they’ve come from and where they need to go.
  2. Find it. The very act of finding the data is one of the first natural steps in understanding and interrogating, without which I predict any mass produced document will be lost under a pile of marking or worse, go in the bin. I understand why schools would want to provide a certain amount to avoid anything bordering on administration, but I don’t think disseminating the finished product works. Most schools now have SISRA, 4matrix or they’re doing stuff in their MIS but they can’t be expected to use it without quality training (see previous post on training staff here).
  3. Choose a focus. Asking middle leaders or class teachers to ‘analyse their data’ is a big and wide ranging task which increases fear and confusion. Middle leaders could choose to focus on one or two groups of pupils at a time, or ask faculty members to look at one each in detail. Alternatively, how about looking at levels of progress OR attainment vs targets OR class residuals.
  4. Build case studies. Instead of trying to tackle everything all at once, case studies of individual pupils can be powerful when shared within and across faculties. They also form a strong evidence base for an Ofsted visit and are thoroughly worthwhile on several other levels.
  5. Review and review. Data isn’t a one off task, and you’ve never really ‘done your data’. Ideally the cycle should be undertaken often and be planned in to faculty meetings or other directed time. If not, then it a little and often approach is best which then gradually (believe me, it will be gradual) becomes part of regular planning and monitoring.

I haven’t met a teacher yet, who would find a thick, stapled data document of much practical use. In conclusion, if it’s not practical is it just red tape?