Moving away from a data intensive tracking system

I was inspired to write this post by seeing (again) this question from @teacherhead at a recent presentation

Educators who follow me on Twitter know my dislike of data collection – it’s the primary reason I left my previous job as a deputy head. The main reason these systems are introduced is linked to accountability to governors and those up above.

What we as teachers (really) want is students to achieve their potential and do their best in exams at KS4/5. What the school wants is the highest possible progress 8 score (especially now it takes only a couple of clicks to rank all the schools in an area by P8 score!) and for students to hit their targets. Hopefully, these two align but that isn’t always the case…

Unfortunately, we go about this process in a rather laborious way. We collect data at termly (or even half-termly!) intervals on current and predicted grades. We ask teachers for evidence to support this data and so teachers have to fit in extra tests, exam questions and other assessments. All these assessments need marking and grading so we take classroom time away from teaching and learning (how much of this assessment data is used formatively?) In addition, we add to the workload of teachers and so the exodus of teaching staff from the classroom continues.

Pig Scales

It’s common to hear the phrase “You don’t fatten the pig by weighing it” and anyone who works in education understands its relationship to what happens in the classroom.  So where do we go from here? How to move away from a culture that has become so intrinsic to school processes that school leaders can’t imagine a life without it? (When I started teaching, data manager was a job that hadn’t been thought of yet!)

So how do we replace data in the accountability cycle? What system do we use instead of (half)termly data drops?  One process that we used in my last school was to hold pupil progress meetings, we called ours i4 meetings (a name borrowed from another school)

  • Information gathering
  • Identify where you can make a difference
  • Intervene systematically
  • Impact measurement

You are able to run the whole process with or without assessment data. The only place a complete picture of a student will exist is in the subject teacher’s mind.  It’s called professional judgement and draws on everything that happens in the classroom, on knowledge of the individual and their circumstances, and on student performance with familiar and unfamiliar assessment material (note not necessarily test scores!)  As part of the process you can discuss who is performing below potential and what the school can or can’t do to support (interventions) When you run the next series of meetings you can determine impact. We tried this system using subject groups and using pastoral/year groups (in a small school the difference is the staff present, not the student groups)

This isn’t a perfect system and requires that there is trust in decisions made at all levels. What’s the alternative – spending teacher time testing students (weighing them) so that you can input data into a spreadsheet that has little impact?

I’d be interested to hear what schools have done that worked well and also contributed positively to the work-life balance of staff.