Does Data Really Matter?


Originally posted on www.itsbenwhitaker.com on 26/09/2017

The notion of Data-Driven Improvement (DDI) has come to the forefront in education over the last few years, most notably as part of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo's seminal works, Driven by Data and Leverage Leadership in which he argues that 'data-driven instruction' is central to good educational leadership. This work has formed the basis of a movement in the U.S. through Uncommon Schools, which is gaining traction as a model in the U.K.


So the idea of basing everything on data and a continuous cycle of improvement is at the crux of this model. In fact, the mantra of "aggressive monitoring" is held up as good practice. My question: is it crucially about the data we have or the children we teach? I admit the two are not mutually exclusive - children create data - but that is the very heart of my argument: children come first. I believe in our data-heavy (as opposed to data-rich) schools, we are measuring the impact of everything (which in itself is not an evil but often leads to such, including marking for the sake of marking, reports and analysis that look nice but tell us very little) and proverbially placing the cart before the horse. Perhaps the 'data' we gather and drive from needs a rethink.

"If you teach and students do not learn, is it really teaching? You cannot know if students are learning at the highest levels if you don’t assess that learning."

I don't think anyone would argue with this message. We have all sat through (and probably even delivered) lessons that are just the teacher spewing out information without any consideration for whether students understand the material. Indeed, there are probably young people right now sat in classrooms thinking, "What is the point in this? I don't even know what he's going on about!" Aimless teaching is neither use nor ornament. However, what I am trying to say is that there is still too much assessment OF learning (despite insets or guidance otherwise on AFL). How many times do we as teachers sit with marked assessments or verbal question answers in front of us before we plan the next session? Rarely, I guess. Isn't it simply enough that we have covered it? The answer is no! We must KNOW our students and how best to cater to their needs. This does require data but the amount and frequency of collecting thus is perhaps unsustainable and gratuitous.

I am advocating a common sense approach (no pun intended). Students' lives matter. So do teachers'. We cannot continue working at the rate and intensity that is expected from all - parents, SLT, OfSTED, whoever is placing the demands this week. So, perhaps rather than data-driven instruction, it should be child-centred - if the data is about the child, then gather it; if it's not, let's not waste the time. Let the children drive the curriculum and their learning. Data is, in fact, a great servant but a poor leader. It does matter but not as much as we give it credit for!


#data #ofsted #methodology #pedagogy #improvement #datarich #leadership

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