No more ‘data to drive up standards’ please!  Let’s use standards to drive up data. 

Posted on March 3, 2015

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Effective use of data in schools: a case study – a transcript 

This post is the transcript of a presentation I gave to the Westminster Education Forum on the 5th February 2015. I have not corrected any punctuation or other errors. 


Thank you. This is the part that where people who can’t spell the word Keven are doing presentations. I think there’s some research in that which might help people call Kevon or Keven, I look forward to seeing that and participating in that.


I was given 10 minutes to give a case study of the effective use of data in my school. I can’t do that in 10 minutes, anybody who wants it can feel free to come and visit Canons and we’ll give you that. What I thought I’d do and it was picked up on by Estelle Morris is, she talked about touchstones, principles, philosophies and what I want to do is just give you 6 touchstones that I think have underpinned some of the work with just a few fleeting examples of how that manifests itself at Canons High School.


We’ve [the school system] got ourselves into a bit of a pickle because I think we’ve forgotten to spot which is the odd one out of the Ofsted judgements. And the odd one out I think is achievement because it’s an output, all of the rest are inputs and I think we have a model nationally through Ofsted that quite rightly in a way comes top down and focuses upon achievement and then uses that to drill down into the 3 others. But we don’t need to do that at school level, we don’t need to do that at the individual teacher level, and I think we do it too often.


This is my school, or this is our school because I do have a colleague here today, it’s gloriously widely to each end of this information, the contextual information and even the one where we’re safely in the middle, is very recent, we used to be a very small school by comparison to most.

This is our cohort attainment on entrance, another interesting bit of data for us and with both of these sets of data, we can’t just will them away, we can’t just will them to change, we’ll not necessarily want to will them to change, there’s nothing wrong with our cohort but yet when it comes to achievement and attainment data, I sometimes think that that’s where we go, as schools, we try to will it up, we try urge it to go forward and using appropriate methods for doing so.


Data only asks questions.  It never answers them.


This is what we’re trying to do at Canons. This was stolen completely and unapologetically from the FFT’s guidance for schools in the use of their data, ‘data only asks questions, it never answers them’ (I got carried away in the heat of the moment and don’t think this is true).


This was the question I was asked on interview; this was our Key Stage 2 to 3 Fischer Family Trust data and the question was, what are you going to do with Key Stage 3 to improve it? When I got into the school, I got a look at the RAISEonlinedata and this is where we were in 2010; sig‐ relative attainment for English across 3 years.

According to the Ofsted criteria at the time, if you had sig‐ for 3 years in a key subject, you got an inadequate.  In 2010 when we only had 2 years of that data, we managed to persuade them to give us an outstanding and that was on the basis of a lead inspector who was from a maths background who spent hours and hours and hours poring over our data with us but we were very firm and arguing where we were going, what we were doing, and she was convinced and it was backed up by Ofsted as an organisation. And it was right to be done.


Data provides estimates, not targets.


This is another thing stolen unapologetically from Fischer Family Trusts, ‘data provides estimate not targets’, if school leaders are out there saying Fischer Family Trust and targets in the same breath, they are going against the principles of the Fisher Family Trust and we should pull them up on it.


We talk in our school about estimates, we talk with students, we talk with staff, we talk with families about estimates, we don’t talk about targets because teachers in classrooms who have the full contextual understanding of what is going on, they can set targets. Obviously as a school we can set targets and then there might be some disagreement about that and some discussion about that but teachers are the ones who set targets, not schools, not data.


And when I was urged by a middle leader to do this with our students, this was the slide from an assembly using, because we were using YELLIS at the time, how chance graphs inform their estimates and that many, many students perform above or below estimates depending upon a range of contextual factors and how well they learn.


Keep it simple.  Less is always more.


Another philosophy, another principle, another touchstone, keep it simple, less is always more. We don’t ask middle leaders, teachers, to churn out vast swathes of statistics; we don’t give them vast swathes of statistics.  To do so takes them away from the thing that they do best, teaching children or supporting children. We have just one data sheet that goes out 3 times a year and I’ll talk about that in a bit more, so we keep it simple, less is always more, okay, I think you know the phrase, I’m not going to do it because I can’t bring myself to, but this notion that you hear about some schools asking teachers 6 times a year to assess where students are at, how can that work? When you’ve got 5 week half terms, how can that work that you can then effectively analyse, explore that data, find out what happens, what’s been happening that’s caused students to drop, all you get is a flight path scenario where teachers constantly feel that the next set of data has to be higher than the last set of data regardless of what actually is happening in the classroom.


A lot of our success in school was founded upon a time when we only asked staff to evaluate students 3 times a year but for year 11, 12 and 13, the key years, it was only twice a year because the third entry point was in the summer term after they’d already finished and yet that 2 times a year was sufficient for us to explore what it was we needed to do to help students improve.


Look after the individuals and the groups will look after themselves.


This was unashamedly stolen, I apologise, I try not to do magpie leadership but it does happen once in a while; this was stolen from a Deputy Head that I worked at, at my previous school, who said look after the individuals and the groups will look after themselves. At the time we were chasing attainment for Pakistani boys in particular at that school. By the time 3 years later contextual value added showed that they were the highest achieving group in the school so we were chasing white British boys or we were chasing pupil premium and actually he called a halt to it and said actually, if we look after the individuals, the groups will look after themselves. so what we do 3 times a year, or twice a year for senior school students, is we get our attainment, this is a single data sheet that comes out from what we do and we have an hour and a half, two hour meetings where we talk about every student individually. We have multiple members of staff there, the heads of core, their line managers, the head of year, people who are charged with the pastoral responsibility of thosestudents, the SEN coordinator, people who can draw in support from outside, and that conversation informssignificant, I hesitate to use the word, interventions because it’s become a bit of a sullied word but significant actions that can help students move forward in their learning and their achievement.


Data is only as infallible as the person inputting it.


This one’s key, ‘data is only as infallible as the person who’s inputting it’; if the Watching the Watchman report is to be believed, that Ofsted with all of its training, all of its support mechanisms, when they make judgements about a member of staff’s teaching, you might as well flip a coin when you ask the next inspectorto do so. So one of the things that we’ve done this year because data doesn’t just apply to students, it applies to staff, is we have got rid of lesson observation judgements and another piece of advice I would put out tohead teachers out there, if you have a spreadsheet with 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s written against staff members names, that goes across a number of years, you have nothing of value, you have nothing of value; you may have something of value if you want to reduce their salaries, or prevent them from going for promotion but you don’t have anything of value to help them develop as teachers.


We need to apply the same principles to Key Stage 3 assessment, GCSE assessment, how do we know that what’s going in is of any quality and particularly when we ask it to go in, and go in, and go in, over and over again?


Rather than use data to drive up standards, let’s use standards to drive up data.


And then the final one, and I was speaking about 3 months ago at a conference called Using data to drive up standards, so this one’s the newest of my touchstones. Rather than use data to drive up standards, how about we use standards to drive up data, how about we focus on the inputs, not the output; how about we focus on behaviour, teaching, leadership? This is where Canons has got to, this is the Key Stage 2 to 3, thankfully this measure’s gone now because it just cannibalised internal data. This is Key Stage 4, English moved from 3 years of sig‐ relative attainment, of 3 years of sig+ relative attainment. And it transformed because we asked the right questions, because we supported staff, not because we use data to beat them over the head.


This is our capped point score which gives us hope going forward into the Attainment 8 and Progress 8. But we’re not building everything upon Attainment 8 and Progress 8, that will come if we make the inputs right.

Narrowing the gaps has been a real strength for us and that comes about not by focusing specifically on pupil premium students but by looking after individuals and letting the groups take care of themselves.


Value added on value added; so our students do brilliantly at Key Stage 4 but then they go on and add onto that with value at Key Stage 5 as well through the same principles.


And so what I want to finish with really is, it starts here, from the bottom up, not from the top down, it starts with changing the inputs, it starts with looking after teaching and teachers, looking after behaviour and those that lead on behaviour and making sure leadership mirrors that and reflects that at all points. And if we do that, achievement will take care of itself, we hope.


Rather than use data to drive up standards, please, please, please let’s use standards to drive up data.

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