5 Ideas for Making Data Collection Work

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Data Analysis Management


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What is your school doing to reduce the data burden?

As part of my determination to better understand teacher-workload, I’ve revisited the Department for Education’s report on ‘Making Data Work’ chaired by Professor Becky Allen. Here is my summary of the 25-pages for the busy classroom teacher.

The challenge

With increasing growth and use of artificial intelligence, I can only see the issue of data collection in our schools becoming worse before it actually gets any easier – once we understand the benefits of using AI and what to do – with data. Either a sophisticated piece of software can give you this information at the click of a button, or you’re left waiting for weeks before a data manager crunches the data and then report back the information in various patterns.

What if your school collected less data, which in turn made the assessment which was actually collected, more meaningful? The challenge for all teachers is always, ‘How will I use this data analysis back in my classroom?’ once analysed.

Professor Becky Allen writes:

“Technological change has already altered how this information is processed, which is why it is time to step back and evaluate whether the time spent managing pupil attainment and pastoral data is proportionate to its educational benefits.”

Time for more professional development?

In our English schools, there is very limited professional development available for teachers. For context, when you find yourself reading about the next article about anything and everything to do with Shanghai education, just remember that those teachers working in that particular context, are allocated 40 days per academic year for professional development! Yes, forty days to plan, assess and learn from one another …

Now, compare this to a measly five stand-alone inset days for English teachers and you can start to understand the challenges our teachers are facing. To have an increasing impact in the classroom, this amount of time (including any focus on data) must improve. With limited school funds and limited professional development opportunity, this is an issue that will not go away anytime soon.

If you would like some professional development to help understand data better, you can try this exercise.

Data Recommendations

Here is a summary of the recommendations made to schools in 2016:

  • Is the purpose and use of data clear and in line with school values?
  • What can be inferred from data and is it well understood?
  • Is the amount of data collected and the frequency proportionate?
  • When last did your school review its processes for both collecting data and for making use of the data?

School and trust leaders should:

  1. Have simple systems that allow behaviour incidents, detentions and other pastoral information to be logged during the normal working day, rather than at break and lunchtimes, wherever possible.
  2. Minimise or eliminate the number of pieces of information teachers are expected to compile.
  3. Understand the quality and purpose of the assessments being used in their school – including details of their reliability and validity in relation to the curriculum.
  4. Review approaches reporting and parental engagement, to inform parents of their child’s performance and behaviour at school in a way that is manageable for teachers, and consider how best to set out expectations to parents.
  5. Use the data principles set out above to decide what the planned intervention for students is, and to minimise the data burden involved in ensuring the students are correctly identified.

School and trust leaders should not:

  1. Have more than two or three attainment data collection points a year.
  2. These should be used to inform clear actions.
  3. Make pay progression for teachers dependent on quantitative assessment metrics, such as test outcomes.

Has your school addressed these issues? If so, how far have you moved on from 2016?


I’m not suggesting any of the following below will work or are perfect solutions, but here are some of ideas worth considering:

  1. Do all ‘data collection windows’ involve having a conversation with the teacher or team leader?
  2. Do key examination year groups have data collected more than three times per academic year?
  3. Is that data easy to understand for teachers, parents and pupils?
  4. Is there demonstrable evidence to suggest that your data collection adds value?
  5. What if all school leaders had ‘a conversation with the teacher’ when looking at class data, rather than making judgements in isolation? What if, when any observer looked inside a pupil’s exercise book, they only did so with a) the teacher present for context and b) the pupil for understanding?

And finally, in the report it was recommened that the DfE should amend performance management guidance to clarify that objectives and performance management discussions should not be based on teacher generated data and predictions, or solely on the assessment data for a single group of pupils. Today, I suspect this is still a massive issue for many teachers …

You can download the full PDF report here.

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