The system of data collection in schools increasingly involves tracking pupil progress from one key stage to the next in every subject and comparing this with their expected progress and national averages. An interesting article ‘Stats in schools: what data lessons can education learn from baseball?‘ in today’s Guardian encourages a new way of thinking about what this means for everyone - from governors, to managers and teachers - and their use of school performance data.
Having just watched the film ‘Moneyball‘, Andy Kerwood, assistant headteacher at Toynbee School in Hampshire, reflects on the parallels between the efforts of Billy Beane, manager of baseball team the Oakland As, to draw on the information in data to overhaul his team’s performance and his own role as a school manager making use of data to manage school standards and progress. In education as in sport, progress involves setting targets, collecting data and analysing where and how performance can be improved.
But not everyone sees it this way. At least not initially. Just as Beane’s methods did not, at first, sit well with everyone, we learn about the challenges of getting teachers – and for this, you could read almost any workforce in any sector – to feel comfortable with data and use it to good effect.
Antipathy towards data is often the first hurdle. Teachers may just not ’get’ the use of data in helping pupils’ progress and/or may be inclined to believe that figures tell them nothing about the child (many of us baulk at being referred to as a number). Lack of confidence is another obstacle. Teachers are not alone in being a bit fearful of data, of not being able to get at or understand the information in data.
So how can you make data less threatening and get busy teachers to own the headline figures and analysis summarised in their school data dashboard*? How can you encourage them to use data and to see its benefits?
At Toynbee school, minimum standards for staff’s use of data were agreed with staff who were then encouraged to self-review against these, and given training if they needed it. The result? Teacher colleagues got more and more into data and into exploring all the questions raised by their own analyses, not least spotting where pupils were not achieving expected progress and cross referencing this with other data e.g. on attendance and questioning why. They also began thinking through the measurable changes they could make to improve outcomes.
In brief, the school team, as a whole, began making really intelligent use of data to drive the school forward. Moreover, in using data, it seems that everyone realized that data about pupils benefits pupils. Numbers – the data - don’t have a life of their own. They are simply a tool. People still hold the reins and bring their experience and expertise to bear when they use data to make decisions.