The DfE report on data - Eliminating Unnecessary Workload associated with Data Management - acknowledges that when used well, data can have a positive impact, helping teachers to teach and school leaders to focus on the right issues. It identifies how and why it has become a burden rather than a benefit and what needs to change to reduce the burdens on teachers.
What does the DfE report identify as the main problems with the way data is managed?
Two key reasons are identified as to why data management has become a burden rather than a benefit; firstly when the purpose for collecting it has not been clear and secondly when the process of collecting has been inefficient, for example, because of duplication or because it has taken too long.
The DfE comes under fire for its practices with the suggestion that its approach is inconsistent; incoherent and burdensome, stating that ‘the amount and frequency of data required by the DfE is unduly onerous’ and that ‘The DfE should review its processes to ensure consistency and coherence across its data requirements.’
The report also highlights the role of Ofsted in driving excessive data management demands, particularly the previous approach of looking for evidence of pupil progress within single lessons. Although the Ofsted framework has changed, the report recognises that the workload pressures associated with inspection have not eased.
In response to this the following message in the report could not be clearer: ‘It is not enough for those in positions of authority in the accountability system – Ofsted, Government, Regional Schools Commissioners, Local Authorities, governors, school leaders – simply to say that data does not need to be used as before to demonstrate effectiveness. Instead, teachers and school leaders need to be given clear signals, including through the inspection process, that ‘gold plating,’ i.e. collecting everything ‘just in case’ is not just unnecessary, it is damaging as it takes teachers and school leaders away from more productive tasks.’
The report goes on to state: ‘Teachers need to know if pupils are on track to achieve end-of-year expectations and whether pupils are where they should be, but are best placed to make such judgements through their professional knowledge without recourse to elaborate assessment, data generating and recording systems. Government (including Regional Schools Commissioners), Ofsted, local authorities and school leaders should support this approach.’
Debunking data myths
- Data, when well used, can have a profound and positive impact: data collection of itself doesn’t.
- Data shouldn’t be collected ‘just in case’ or to be ‘ready’.
- Data shouldn’t be collected ‘just because you can’ – data collection should have a clear purpose.
- Ofsted doesn’t require a particular format nor a particular frequency: you should present any data in the format that schools would normally use to monitor pupils’ progress.
Advice for National Education Union members
Consider these challenges: Stop collecting data if the burden of collection outweighs their use; don’t collect summative data more than three times a year per pupils; don’t collect formative data. Use the time to engage in the following challenges:
- Do you know why each piece of data is collected? Do you know who uses the data and how? If not, ask.
- Does your school have an assessment and data management calendar, to understand the assessment demands throughout the year? If not, can you develop one?
- Does your school regularly audit in-school data management procedures to ensure they are robust, valid, effective and manageable? If not, suggest that this is good practice.
- Do you have to record data in different ways for different audiences? Can you discuss requirements with your SLT and streamline collection?
Full DfE report
- Read the DfE report on Eliminating unnecessary workload associated with data management