Data is a good thing, right?

I have been in this profession since 1995 and I am able to hold in my head the memory of what the teaching was like back then, I can also remember what the job was like in the early 1980s when my dad was a teacher and later Head of English in a deprived mining town secondary school. Remember the good old days of no accountability? At school I affectionately recall Fag Ash Lil, who spent every maths lesson outside chain smoking while some of us tried to work from our text books and ignored Ian S hitting David N with a chair.

Ever since the Education Reform Act of 1988 accountability has become established in England, supported by the ever-increasing use of data and data-systems that cyclically process test and examination results to feed back to eager recipients. Colleges were introduced to the accountability regime following the publication of The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 which …

…gives the Further Education Funding Council (the Council) the duty to ensure that satisfactory arrangements exist to assess the quality of education provided in colleges within the sector (FEFC Circular 93/28, 1993)

It is difficult to argue against the fact that over the last twenty years data and accountability systems have played an important role in improving FE and 6th Form Colleges. The benchmarking data on levels of retention and achievement in England in the Further Education Funding Agency (FEFC) report (2000) showed that:

achievement rates for students aged between 16 and 18 studying for qualifications at notional level 3 increased from 75% to 77% between 1996-97 and 1997-98, building on an increase from 73% in 1995-96” (p1).

Data from the national achievement rate tables 2015-16 now tells us that in 2016, the achievement rate for this group had increased to 93% and the transparent use and publication of accessible data now helps parents make informed choices. The Test-Data-Inspect model has worked and no one has yet come up with an alternative.

However, despite the improvements there has been constant criticism. Most of this has been centered around Ofsted and the increased workload that data driven accountability has (inadvertently) produced and of course, the sense of loss of “professionalism” and trust.

Dr. Becky Allen argues that the main impetus for change has to come from school leaders, since they have created the audit culture. We know in our hear-of-hearts that it is impossible to audit teaching and learning accurately – respected academics worldwide tell us this. Dr Allen says…

“leaders need to learn to live with this uncomfortable truth and stop asking for lesson plans, performing book scrutiny, reviewing marking and collecting tracking data”.

However, expecting us to reverse years of learned behaviour, without any guarantees of protection from those demanding figures, data and proof, requires considerable bravery on our part.

Are league tables all that matters? Obedience or survival?
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So, given the improvements that have and which can be made through the use of data and associate systems, why is there such a barrage of criticism and bad press? And just how brave are you?