There’s no denying that it’s a difficult time for everyone involved in education right now, and that schools are under extreme pressure to produce results. We all know this, we all feel it. Our teachers and school leaders are living and breathing this pressure every day.
Performance management is linked to the progress of students, and teachers and faculty leaders are accountable for this. Therefore, it’s not surprising that head teachers want to drill down into the most tangible tool they have at their disposal: data. How else are they supposed to know whether the school is going to achieve their attainment targets in the summer?
In a joint letter to all school leaders this week, Education Secretary Damian Hinds pledged “to help school leaders cut ‘unnecessary’ workload and support teachers to focus their energies in the classroom.”
Hinds is right to say that if we’re going to help the teacher retention crisis, then we must support teachers to reduce the excessive time they spend on data analysis. To make sure teachers have the information they need to do their jobs and avoid burnout, it’s essential to separate out what makes data “meaningless” and what data is actually useful.
To ensure your data is meaningful, you just need to ask yourself one question: will collecting and analysing this data allow me to take clear, timely action that will have a direct impact on and for my students?
In schools, it’s not the amount of data gathered but how that data is collated, calculated, and analysed that needs to change. It’s vital that teachers have enough information to plan what needs to be delivered, and to see the gaps that pupils have in their skill or knowledge base in order to prepare them for their exams.
We need to improve the efficiency of these data processes, not cut the use of data
Cutting down on collecting the data that’s needed to see the overall picture, and take the actions required to improve student performance, would cause even more stress and anxiety amongst teachers. It would lead to even more scrutiny and pressure from line managers as uncertainty about the summer’s outcomes will be higher.
The issue is that too often data analysis takes ages, then simply gets put into a document and filed away “just in case” somebody asks for it later. Collecting data and then either not taking the time – or having the time – to analyse it and decide on a course of action, working together with the people necessary to effect the change, is a waste of time.
Damian Hinds is also right in saying: “Frequent data drops and excessive monitoring of a child’s progress are not required by Ofsted or by the DFE”. The only thing that should dictate how pupil progress is monitored is what will support the teacher in the classroom and support the students in their learning.
If assessment data is collected it should show teachers:
1. Where the weak topics are in their classes
2. Which students need more support on a particular topic
3. The action needed in the classroom to improve their students understanding
For leadership at any level, data should allow school leaders to:
1. Identify which subject areas and teachers need extra support
2. Where the biggest improvements for students can be made
3. Which groups of students may need extra support across a range of subjects
As a rule, the time spent collecting and analysing any pupil data should not take longer than it does to take action on it. There are systems out there that take weeks to provide reports, and then don’t give enough detail on why certain subjects are not doing as well as expected, or which areas of the curriculum teachers need to focus on. By that time, good teachers have already reflected with their students and moved on to the next topic.
These systems don’t help the teachers do the job they are there to do: teach. Instead they help waste time through having meetings based on outdated data, potentially causing communication issues, and creating a lack of trust and conflict between teams.
Any system that is provided for teachers should help them crunch the raw numbers immediately and give instantaneous feedback that they can take action on.
Teachers should only have to focus on assessment data linked to what’s being taught, and how it is assessed by the exam boards. They need support to purchase and implement tools that immediately analyse and give them data they can trust and use to take action: from planning the next lesson to changing the way a concept is taught in the first place.
And what about the students? It’s their data after all. They have the most power to actually do something about it. Whenever tests are marked the first question students ask is: “What grade did I get?” They want to know how they did, and if it was better than the last time. Empowering students by giving them a clear breakdown of what went well and which areas to develop can lower their anxiety and put them back in control.
Teachers need a system that calculates everything for them. They need a system into which they can plug in assessment scores and have grades calculated. They need a system that analyses data to see where the gaps are. They need a system that allows senior managers access to this data so that they can provide support to teachers and faculties early.
Having the right processes in place to collect and analyse the right data ensures a school isn’t wasting two or even three months out of the year planning and executing 'data drops'. These can cause schools to waste hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in terms of teachers’ time and energy. This is time that could be spent planning, marking, giving feedback, or 121 with pupils… or ensuring that teachers can go home at a normal time, relax, and replenish their energy and enthusiasm for another day of teaching.