We know that teachers have always worked long hours and put a great deal of effort into curriculum planning, preparing lessons and assessing pupils’ work.
But in recent years, something has changed for the worse. The impact of an increasingly high-stakes accountability system has changed teachers’ perception of the reasons they do all this this work.
What was once a focus on pupils and their learning has become an exercise in fuelling accountability – of filling in data forms as a kind of obsessive auditing culture.
And we know from national surveys and local feedback that teachers are voting with their feet. Too many are leaving the profession within a few years of qualifying, putting enormous strain on schools which then try to recruit from scratch, wasting huge amounts of money on teacher training and diminishing the pool of great teachers for our nation’s children.
Data is often cited by teachers as one of the key areas which drives excessive workload, but there needs to be nuance here. It’s not that teachers are opposed to data. They recognise the value of useful, accessible information that supports and shapes the learning of their pupils and shines a light on areas pupils may get stuck on.
In particular, standardised assessments such as those offered by GL Assessment can bring a wealth of information to teachers about their pupils, in turn helping those pupils to do better.
There are three steps we need to take with data. We must stop using bad data – full stop. We need to stop using good data in ways which are unhelpful or unsound. And we must all undertake to use good data wisely, being discerning about what can and can’t be inferred and knowing the limits of that data.
I would suggest that there are three steps we need to take with data.
First, we must stop using bad data – full stop. Obsessive data-drops say little that is meaningful about pupils and providing false notions of their progress need to go. A limited number of really powerful assessments through the year is much more meaningful.
The second step is to stop using good data in ways which are unhelpful or unsound. For example, GCSE targets for individual pupils based on national data can sometimes be motivating and helpful but aggregating those targets to form part of a teacher’s performance management is inappropriate.
Thirdly, we must all undertake to use good data wisely, being discerning about what can and can’t be inferred and knowing the limits of that data.
This report is firmly at the wise end of the list.