Schools are data rich, but are we information poor? How do we balance the data, the numbers and dealing with real live children and helping them learn. Is data more of a dark art than a scientific methodology?
This is a dangerous blogpost because some people love data, and some hate data. I think politicians love us to have data. FFT Raiseonline, LAT and PANDA. Then there is the data we put into sims or other IMS systems for collecting school data, and I’m not even getting to life with or without levels. Then we have analytical tools such as 4matrix and ALPS. Hey and that’s just my school.
There are other layers too – most teachers collect data, most departments collect data. I used to dread my HoD checking my mark book in case I had to explain all my codes ( late work due to illness and absence; late work due to lazy etc) then there were my inconsistencies such as a blob meaning I was worried about that pupil on that topic, then the gaps where I forgot for a few weeks to keep a register – nothing anarchic just had so much to do in lesson counted heads asked where X and Y were and cracked on. Whatever mess my mark book was in it was a data tool, it recorded data, in a limited way it analysed data.
It could have been better, but it served my purpose I knew pretty well who progressed, who didn’t and my predictions were usually correct. I played a few games, telling some they were likely to get a D knowing my conversation would galvanise them into work for a C – others needed cajoling and constant encouragement but hey they made it. My classroom has always been all about relationships, me knowing them, them understanding my expectations, me knowing Chemistry and them learning it, with my help. My data telling me who was getting along OK and who wasn’t. Data, plus thinking, plus conversations plus educational nowse.
Now we are in an overwhelming data dominant world. If you ask me as an SLT member how X is getting on, well we can check attendance and compare it to others in classes/year/school/nation with all manner of codes and % stats. Shall we look at behaviour or achievement data across my lessons, across the year group the whole school. Progress data or attainment? Or marks, mine or my dept or what I consider my critical marks such as assessments and tests? Dealing with data for parents and pupils is a whole different blogpost.
I recall back in the day we had an analysis of SATs called anSAT and a local subject adviser asked me to check out some new ( expensive software). It analysed skills and knowledge in the subject in huge detail for each pupil. He showed us ‘Petunia’ ( not her real name) she had a whole A4 chart showing lots of bars, her marks now apparently converted from her responses to show her understanding of topics compared to the class, the year, the nation probably the universe. It showed she really got this topic and really was lost on that one. The head of subject was getting very excited, he loved numbers. “So are you keen?” said the advisor. “One question” I said, “yes”said the advisor. “No, not to you but to the head of subject – thinking about Mrs Ordinaryteacher ( not her real name) who teaches your subject, if we went in her class could she tell you that information about Petunia?”- “yes, more or less, maybe not linked to the year group but to the class and to the national and to their targets etc”. So why bombard her with so much overwhelming data and with that data the added worry piled on a deeply conscientious outstanding teacher?
Data has immense power and value-we can pick out patterns and themes maybe a topic no one has really understood, maybe an area we need to make new resources. We can and should help each other with it, but not get obsessed by it. I am a teacher, I like creating resources and helping learners, much better than tiring over data and worrying I haven’t missed anything. You see the job is an art not a science. Let the good teacher get on and teach, ensure they have enough data but do not overwhelm them.
In the 90’s I met a fairly senior History examiner whilst I was attending award meetings for A Level chemistry, I said to him that our award was challenging and complex but reasonably objective, how did he feel about the accuracy of History? Oh, he replied, we are good, I am confident, when we award a C grade for example it really is a C grade, or maybe a B or a D but it’s definitely around there. I often think just how scarey is our dependence on data and results with their massive consequences for pupils, and teachers and schools. Is it time to say exams are more of an art than a science and just plan (and judge) on that basis? Use data to help identify issues but tackling the issues is the challenge. SLT we need to make sure our teachers have enough of the right info.
Well back after August it’s that hugely time consuming job – ploughing through results data and soon revisiting FFT etc Oh and then the surprise of an update, or the governors data dashboard showing something a bit different to what something else suggests. It’s back to pouring over Raise and remind myself which colour is which because in ALPs the colours are different. One of my favourites 4matrix with another upgrade and new tricks (check out their video intro) but giving me the feeling there is so much more hidden away-help you’ve intimidated me. I know that data analysis which is demanded by so many accountability measures is crucial to the job, and I know SLT need to know the data but really a we need to know our school and what information the data reveals and then make good decisions about our school.
All of this can suck out our time, and energy and then when I talk with colleagues and we discuss data there are further complexities. I hugely appreciate the contribution of data managers but occasionally I just need to check we have a balance. In all honesty I could spend all day doing data but the pupils will not benefit as much as they might if I sat and taught them or even listened to them or just took a bit of genuine interest in them to lift their self confidence and to encourage them to learn. Right that’s it shutting down my computer to go amd watch the year 9 boys football team.
Some questions to think about
Q1 What data is the critical crucial data needed by the teacher in the classroom to maintain and raise standards?
Q2 How do we ensure we do not overwhelm class teachers with data but that we so point out patterns and themes which need addressing?
Q3 Are we too driven by data, or is it the magicians wand to point out what has to be changed, kept the same, or transformed?
Q4 Those who want to get on with teaching and leave the data other than a mark book behind are being naive-discuss!
Q5 just how much of FFT Raise ALPS Panda does any given role need to understand?
There is an even more vexing question – just how good is the data. Have a read of this blog by @Jack_Marwood
Not much for us in church schools on data in the BIble but some on how we approach the job!
Matthew 22: 16
They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.”
Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.
As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.