Monthly Archives: July 2012

Why Data Use By Teachers is Key

I am a data geek, I make no apologies for the fact that I love a good spreadsheet and tinkering with charts. However, it seems that this is not the case for the majority of teachers. Yes data can be time consuming, it can be confusing and, in some schools, it is jealously guarded by members of SLT who pass out morsels to the waiting staff.

School Use of Data

The use of data in schools can be a contentious issue. Data is generally collected for two main purposes – for internal tracking, monitoring and diagnostic purposes, and for external purposes. Over the past 20 years, data for external consumption has become a focus, not the sole focus, but certainly it has moved into the realm of non-teaching professionals; a shift that makes many teachers uncomfortable. Kelly, et al (2010:4) found that: “staff think it is collected for external accountability purposes, but that it should be collected for internal improvement purposes.”

Parental Choice

One of the key arguments towards schools presenting their data is that it allows parents to make informed decisions about their choice of school. This view has its problems, firstly, ‘choice’ only truly exists in some areas, largely cities where there are a selection of schools with available places. Secondly, as shown by Allen and Burgess (2012), information about how a school has performed in the past is not an accurate indicator of how the school will perform in six years time, and therefore there is still a high amount of guesswork.

DfE School Performance Tables

The increased level of detail and data in the DfE school performance tables means that, more than ever, staff and managers need to be aware of the data we have in school and how it will be presented in public. This increased focus does not necessarily mean that we need to do things differently as English teachers, but being aware of the additional focus on English and Maths, for pupils of all attainment levels is key.

Although I have issues with league tables and reporting data that might not be fully understood by the consumer, I feel that, in an imperfect world, this measure helps to focus our resources not solely on those who are on the C/D borderline, and if necessary, justifies the inclusion of pupils who would not normally be targeted – not that such justification should be needed, but in these high stake days of A*-C including English and Maths the focus has been skewed – one of Goldstein and Leckie’s (2008:69) “perverse measures”. The continued tracking of these groups means we can check that all pupils are being offered support and that we are doing the best for all groups.

Data, Data Everywhere

One of the difficulties faced by teachers is the fact that the information needed for the department and the individual comes from a variety of different sources, in particular: school systems like SIMs, SISRA, FFT, school, department and individual spreadsheets. It is not surprising that for many this is ovewhealming. This disparate range of sources, and the fact that department spreadsheets often need to be created, is not uncommon in schools. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that data use in schools is not as effective as it might be, as Heads of Subject rarely have sufficient time to source and collate the information, and it takes a well trained administrator, with sufficient time, to be able to keep on top of it. As van Barneveld (2008:2) states: “large –scale assessment data were neither current enough nor aligned adequately with daily instruction”.

It is this gap between the data produced and staff need that makes many teachers reluctant to use or rely upon the available data. “Use of pupil attainment and progress data is widespread across the profession, but least so among classroom teachers” (Kelly, et al. 2010:3).

Why data is important to you

It is easy, as a subject leader, to see the importance of data, in particular lag data, when fulfilling the information needed for SLT meetings and SEFs, it is harder to see it if you are a classroom teacher. But, I want to convince you that knowing how to use data effectively is vital for all teachers.

Firstly, let’s talk pragmatically, what’s in it for you? Staff must feel confident in using data, as the new DfE Standards for Teachers, from September 2012, states that teachers must:

2 – Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils…be accountable for pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes.

6 – Make accurate and productive use of assessment…use relevant data to monitor progress, set targets, and plan subsequent lessons.

So, based on this, it is the job of all teachers to use and understand data. It will also be very helpful to keep track of the various groups of students you teach. Being able to go into meetings knowing, for example, who your low attainers are, what progress they are making and what you are doing to ensure their progression, will make you feel more confident. What I am not saying is that you need to memorise all of this, that is where having a clear data storage system – be it a mark book or an electronic system – is key.

But, let’s be honest here, yes the standards are important to us as teachers, it forms part of our assessment and ultimately guides the PM process, but, being hit with the big stick of Ofsted is rarely what motivates teachers, and this is not the main reason we should use data. The real reason data is so important to us as teachers is as a tool to diagnose what students need to progress. This is so important, how can a student know where to go with their learning if we can’t give them some specific guidance. There are tool there to help – although APP isn’t statutory and can be a little unwieldy, it does provide a framework for assessing the students current position and guiding them towards improvement. Knowing specifically what your students need to do to improve means that meaningful feedback can be given.

Hattie (2012:16) states that:

The act of teaching requires deliberate interventions to ensure that there is cognitive change in the student; thus the key ingredients are being aware of the learning intentions, knowing when a student is successful in attaining those intentions, having sufficient understanding of the student’s prior understanding as he or she comes to the task and knowing enough about the content to provide meaningful and challenging experiences so that there is some sort of progressive development.

At the core of Hattie’s statement lies the importance for teachers to effectively use a range of data. Teachers need to have a full understanding of the available data in order to plan, teach and assess effectively. Good teachers know their students.

Overall, what has become clear through my research is that it is essential to remember that:

data in itself is insufficient; that it is the interpretation and subsequent use of data that can impact positively on teaching and learning, rather than the data itself (Kirkup, et al. 2005:102).


Allen, R. & Burgess, S. (2012) ‘Why The New School League Tables Are Much Better…But Could Be Better Still’ CMPO Viewpoint. [accessed 30/01/12]

Goldstein, H. & Leckie, G. (2008) ‘School League Tables: What Can They Really Tell Us?’ Significance. June 2008 pp. 67-69

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Abingdon: Routledge

Kelly, A., Downey, C., Rietdijk, W. (2010) ‘Data dictatorship and data democracy: understanding professional attitudes to the use of pupil performance data in English secondary schools’, CFBT. [accessed 27/01/2012]

Kirkup, C., Sizmur, J., Sturman, L., Lewis, K. (2005) ‘Schools’ Use of Data in Teaching and Learning’ NFER, [accessed 27/01/2012]

Smith, A. (2011) High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools. Camarthen: Crown House Publishing

Van Barneveld, C. (2008) ‘Using Data to Improve Student Achievement’ What Works? Research into Practice. Research Monograph 15. [accessed 27/01/2012]

Teachers – The Essential Ingredient

One of the difficulties of dealing with data at a whole school level is the sheer volume of students involved and the wide range of departments involved. As so much of what we do in the higher years is reported at a national level it is easy, and obvious to focus on the Y11 classes, making sure they have achieved what they need to.

When we look at these patterns in most schools we see fairly detailed analysis and focus at ks4, with slightly less focus at Y10. At ks3, the tracking in the main, focuses on progress in individual subjects, again, the quality of this type of tracking varies from subject to subject, and often, from teacher to teacher.

However, if we are to create a real culture of improvement and focus, as is often seen in the most successful schools, we need to be looking at the bigger picture and each subject needs to see its part within it. The challenge is to stop the insular thinking that is traditionally the way schools work. Maths, Science and English often struggling against each other for kudos and higher grades and more time, foundation subjects feeling sidelined or pushing for their needs to the detriment of other subjects. The time has come that we see ourselves as truly part of the same organisation, with the same purpose.

One of the biggest challenges in moving a school from good to great is dealing with within-school variation. This is where students have very different experiences in different subjects across the school, or where the difference between pupils with similar abilities on paper is vast because of the teacher they have. Obviously, there will be differences between subjects, not everyone can or will have the ability to do well across the school. However, should there be such a difference? Students who achieve an A or a B in English achieving an E or F in other subjects. What causes this type of gap? What can we do to change this?

Before we consider the complex world of data, we need to look at one of the most influential and essential elements in a student’s school career- the teacher. Now we are not just talking about the quality of the teacher. Yes, there are teachers who are less confident, less motivated and even less capable than others. There are teachers who have real difficulties getting the necessary level of behaviour for excellent progress. There are, and I’m sure I’ll be shouted down over this, but we all know it is true, some teachers who really shouldn’t be teachers: the teachers who don’t care about the classes they teach, who don’t plan or teach lessons properly, who don’t mark the student work and some, who frankly don’t seem to like children. When we are looking at this final category, the new government plans to remove the informal part of teacher monitoring and to make it easier to get rid of poor teachers is a good thing. Most teachers have had to pick up the pieces of the group who has had one of these teachers. The group who have made little progress since primary school, those who have not covered the content of the course, and those who fail to mark or even set the necessary work for GCSE. I won’t pull any punches here, if this is the case, and these teachers do not improve their working practices, they should leave, and it should be possible to ensure they leave before they damage the education of even more children. For the teacher, yes it may be a career, but you can’t tell me that a teacher who really tries hard (as the vast majority do) would be in this position or wouldn’t improve with help. The hard core of others need to be removed, and we all know who they are.

However, one of the biggest impacts is down to the expectation of the teacher. This starts at primary school, letting the weaker students do less, expecting less. In some cases, it is down to the set number, deciding, based on an arbitrary number, the ability of a group and the students within it. Those little comments made by the previous teacher which are rarely focused on the achievement and progress of the students. This attitude needs to be stamped out from the very start. In Y11 it is almost impossible to turn this attitude around, and this is a key area that we need to address as teachers. As one of the teachers said in Alistair Smith’s High Performers, what is the point of setting a target below a C, the whole point of a target is that it should be aspirational, it shouldn’t be a given, but we should ensure that we are teaching all students the skills and content they need to achieve this. They may not all get there, but at least we can make sure we have done everything we can to achieve this, whatever the set.