Data and workload

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Rights and conditions
03 November 2016
Having difficulties with data? Here's what our members said about the issue.

It takes too long

"Data entry takes hours & creates massive stress"

"With the new system it's very time consuming, and hard to see benefit for students, but it must be done for Ofsted to demonstrate progress'.

It's too detailed

"Data entry – more complex every year, having produced it all it takes ages to plough through it to find anything. Would like to be able to see the wood for the trees!"

"You have to give a 'working at grade' and a 'predicted grade'. How can I predict what kids are going to get in Y11 when I have had them for 6 weeks in Y9?"

We spend too long on data entry and not enough on analysis

"Although there are people to do admin, it often feels like we are the people actually taking time to input all the data etc. Their role seems to be collating across school and then printing it"

"Data entry could be done by admin staff and analysed by me".

The data aren't relevant to my teaching or the pupils

"I feel this is being done just for the SLT so they have numerical data to present to governors, school advisors, local authority or OFSTED. Does knowing a 3 year old is worth 4% help them improve?"

"Data entry/analysis, which used to be useful and meaningful in terms of tracking and target setting for my children has now become a really difficult long winded process which takes days at a time to complete. The emphasis has shifted from children to numbers."

The systems we use aren't fit for purpose

"The issue is with having to get to grips with a program that is not intuitive without time being given to allow familiarity."

"Data entry/analysis could be done more effectively on different software, which is more straightforward and less time consuming."

"I'm having to keep paper records because they're quick and easy to do at the time, but am then expected to duplicate this on the school tracker system which takes a long time because of the amount of information to scroll through and adjust."

The Grattan Institute in Australia stated in 2015 that while schools are "awash with data, many do not collect the data they really need, or use the data they do collect effectively". It's not only schools, but the education system generally, which is drowning in data. We have got into a situation where national data takes precedence, and our efforts are put into mapping where our school data sits in relation to that.

'Data' is information. It's important to be able to reflect on what we know about the students we teach – and this extends beyond their performance in tests. It includes information about attainment and behaviour, needs and interventions, past achievements and current interests. Teachers and leaders have always done this, through markbooks, registers and behaviour logs for example. We report it to pupils and parents, and also to many other stakeholders. But its main importance should be to enable teachers to continually improve teaching, by understanding what has an impact on pupils' learning.

The trouble is that we now increasingly use the data we collect to judge whether we're meeting targets, and to crack down on those pupils and teachers who don't seem to be 'making progress'. This can lead to frequent testing and data entry, frequent analysis of tiny data sets, and a focus on small movements of numbers, which may represent a single pupil having a bad day. Linda Darling-Hammond says, "Student learning outcomes and data should be viewed as important information, but never, never in and of itself as an automatic verdict on teaching, learning or schools."

NFER, in a report commissioned by the DfES in 2005 explained that data "only becomes effective if it stimulates questions about the actual learning that is taking place and how it can be developed further."

The Commission on assessment without levels suggests that teachers should ask the fundamental question: what purposes are the data intended to support?

Until you know the answer to that question, it is hard to know what data to collect, how frequently, or how to analyse and report it. Once you have agreed the purposes, then these answers become more obvious.

A school that manages data well will have a strong understanding of how to use it to identify individuals who need support. Its assessment policy will set out when it is useful to record data, and when it is not. It will also explain how the data will be analysed and what decisions and actions can be taken based on the data.

It's important that teachers can consider data collaboratively. When teachers are teaching the same children, the same subjects or the same topic over time, analysis of trends can generate useful information about what might be happening and how to support or change that. Teachers can only do this in an atmosphere of trust. Where data is used judgementally or punitively, whether by SLT or because of inspection judgements, it is much more difficult to be open about your data and to learn from it.

In 2005, the NfER reported that 'inadequate training or support resulted in staff viewing data as a threat.' Not much has changed since then for many teachers. Good practice needs to be supported by collaborative CPD, looking at how to use the data constructively, reflecting on the questions that teachers want to ask about their own practice and how to use data to answer those questions, rather than just the current focus on how to use the systems, how to interpret national data and what school data tells you about the progress your pupils made this term.

In the meantime the DfE response to the Workload Challenge contained an appendix of useful suggestions (see page 22).

For data it suggests:

  • effective use of whole school data management system/registers (including training for staff)
  • use of software for tracking pupil progress
  • use of tablets for assessments
  • effective use of support staff, eg removing administrative tasks from pupil-facing roles, sharing data managers with partner schools
  • teacher-led CPD with a focus on improving practice rather than disseminating information
  • use of online tools for administrative processes.

The Ofsted clarification document (updated 11 January 2016) says:

Ofsted will take a range of evidence into account when making judgements, including published performance data, the school's in year performance information and work in pupils' books and folders, including that held in electronic form.

Ofsted does not expect performance and pupil-tracking information to be presented in a particular format. Such information should be provided to inspectors in the format that the school would ordinarily use to monitor the progress of pupils in that school.

1. Data entry shouldn't be done by me

  • Data entry is an administrative process, and should be done by dedicated admin staff
  • Forms and reports should be pre-populated with as much data as possible (e.g names and dates of birth, pupil premium status, previous attainment)

2. Data should be entered once and not duplicated

  • It's moving data from one system to another, whether from paper to computer, or between systems, that wastes time.
  • We need better systems that enable transfer from mark books.

3. We need to collect relevant data

  • Too much data is collected because we think Ofsted want it, or to report to the governors.
  • Teachers need to identify what data is useful for their teaching, and ensure the systems can collect and analyse that data.

4. We need some stability

  • Teachers and school leaders need to spend time choosing or developing an appropriate system, and then stay with that system. The system itself needs to stay stable too, as changes to the way it functions mean spending time re-learning how to use the software.
  • Teachers need ample notice of changes in assessment and reporting policies, with guidance available well in advance of those changes. Otherwise much time is wasted inventing a system that will be overtaken by national events.

How to cut your workload by reducing the time you spend with data.

  • Find someone else to enter the data.
  • Only enter data once.
  • Rethink how frequently you enter data.
  • Rethink how often you analyse and report on data.
  • Don't enter formative assessment data – you need to act on that information and there is little intrinsic value in recording it.

It is almost impossible to take these actions as an individual. Data collection and analysis is usually decided at a school or departmental level. It is important to discuss the issues with colleagues in order to find a way through the data overload.

Questions to discuss with colleagues/senior leadership

  • What purposes are our data intended to support (see Assessment without Levels commission, final report)?
  • Who will use and interpret the data, and how will they use it?
  • What decisions or actions do we want to be able to take, based on the data?
  • Are the assessments we use reliable and valid (there's no point collecting data from poor assessments)?
  • Does your data help you to improve pupil learning?
  • Does your data help you to reflect on your teaching – in particular to track whether a particular intervention has made a difference and to which pupils?
  • How much time does it take to enter the data – it will be useful to track how long it takes so that you have collective evidence. You can then make informed arguments about whether it would be cost-effective to employ (or share) a data manager, or what other aspects of your role will need to be dropped in order to make the time for data entry/analysis.
  • Do you have a member of staff with responsibility for leading data analysis? The NFER report suggests that 'useful discussions of data amongst staff tended to occur in schools where one person took a proactive role in using data to move learning forward.'
  • How frequently should you record summative assessment data? The Commission on assessment without levels says that "Recording summative data more frequently than three times a year is not likely to provide useful information" (see page 31).
  • Can you evaluate the systems you use to collect and analyse data? Useful questions for this would be:
    • Does the product support the school's policy on assessment?
    • To what extent will it support delivery of that policy?
    • Is the assessment approach implied by the product credible (in particular the Commission points out that systems which dictate formative assessment may not be right for your situation)
    • Does the product provide good value?
  • What training do you need in order to understand how best to use the data to support your practice, and how best to collect data that answers the questions you want to raise?
  • Does your assessment or data policy include information about when it is necessary to record assessment data, and how to manage the workload implications? 

What's the evidence?

How schools and teachers can get the data they need.