Data dictatorship and data democracy

Anthony Kelly, Christopher Downey with Willeke Rietdijk

This report presents findings from a nationwide survey of English secondary school teachers on their use of, and attitudes towards, pupil performance and progress data.

Over the past decade, various measures for gauging pupil attainment and progress in schools have been introduced in England: from simple threshold measures of raw academic attainment such as the percentage of pupils obtaining a particular set of examination grades, through value-added (VA) models adjusting for prior attainment, to the latest relatively complex contextual value-added (CVA) models which take account of a wide range of factors deemed to be outside the control of schools. The development of value-added measures has, by and large, been greeted favourably by teachers as a response to their call for metrics to be fairer than unadjusted threshold measures. The stated aim was to make schools ‘data rich’ and to foster a culture of ‘intelligent accountability’ among teachers; the implicit assumption was that such data can improve the quality of teaching and lead to improved outcomes for pupils.

Since their introduction, both raw attainment and value-added measures have been used to inform and focus school improvement through self-evaluation and pupil target setting, as well as being part of the UK government’s accountability agenda for English schools (through the publication of school performance tables, the work of School Improvement Partners and the Ofsted inspection framework). Data has been presented in a variety of incarnations such as Performance and Assessment (PANDA) reports, the Pupil Achievement Tracker (PAT) and most recently via the sophisticated outputs produced by the web-based ‘RAISEonline’. Data flows to schools from a variety of sources: the government’s Department for Education (DfE); Ofsted, the English schools inspectorate; the Fischer Family Trust’s Data Analysis Project (FFT); and through various collaborations such as the London Families and the Lancashire Schools projects. The ability to use performance data is now written into Performance Standards for teachers in England: from trainees seeking Qualified Teacher Status providing evidence that they can use it ‘to evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching’, to the recently introduced category of ‘Excellent Teacher’ being able to use it to ‘analyse’ and ‘evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and learning across the school’.