Schools told to cut down data collection burden for teachers

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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In a bid to crackdown on needless data workload in schools, the Department for Education and Ofsted have told headteachers to have fewer data collection points across the year and to scrap onerous behaviour logging practices. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Schools should not have more than two or three data collection points across the academic year, both the education secretary and Ofsted chief have agreed.

Damian Hinds and Amanda Spielman have written to school leaders across England advising them to cut down on the amount of data collection teachers are asked to undertake.

It follows the publication of a report by the government’s Workload Advisory Group focused on data collection and use in schools.

Making Data Work makes a series of recommendations for the Department for Education (DfE), Ofsted and school leaders. Both the DfE and Ofsted have accepted all the recommendations in full.

The DfE has said that as a result of the report it will from now on only ask for pupil attainment data, above that which is collected for national assessments, if a school meets a trigger for intervention. It will also request data in a school’s existing format.

Ofsted inspectors, meanwhile, are to focus in inspection on whether schools’ attainment data collections are “proportionate, represent an efficient use of school resources, and are sustainable for staff”.

Mr Hinds has also used the report’s publication to announce his intention to stop the introduction of resits for year 7 pupils, in order to avoid the extra teacher workload this would have generated.

Although not a recommendation in the report, the DfE confirmed in its response that it would “not proceed with the introduction of optional resits in year 7 for those students who did not reach the expected standard in English reading and mathematics”.

In the joint letter, which is also signed by Association of School and College Leaders and the National Governance Association among others, schools are urged to adopt three principles in particular:

  • “Minimising or eliminating the number of pieces of information teachers are expected to compile.”
  • “Having simple systems for logging behaviour incidents and other pastoral information.”
  • “Reviewing and reducing the number of attainment data collection points a year and how these are used – as a rule, it should not be more than two or three a year.”

The report is clear that schools must “minimise or eliminate” the amount of data that teachers are expected to collect about pupil attainment.

It states: “Asking a teacher to provide up to 30 data points for 30 pupils introduces spurious precision into a system that will ultimately contain more data points, but no more information, than a system with fewer data points per pupil.”

The report also says that there is no evidence to justify a system of six data collection points a year, as operated in some schools.

It adds: “Unless attainment information can be collected with no marking or data inputting time outside teachers’ lesson times, we see no reason why a school should have more than two or three attainment data collection points a year, which should be used to inform clear actions. Evidence suggests that increasing assessment frequency is not inherently likely to improve outcomes for schools.”

Other problems highlighted in the report include onerous behaviour data systems, with the logging of incidents often being burdensome for teachers. Time-consuming practices for parental reports and communication is also an issue.

On behaviour, the report states: “Schools should 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.

“Teachers are less likely to find recording incidents burdensome if they don’t have to write extensive text, or select from a long list of behaviour codes that cannot be easily memorised or are too specific to be able to choose from.”

It recommends that Ofsted should assure schools that “inspectors will not expect to see detailed logging of every single incident and detention, and that schools should use their own judgement of what constitutes a ‘minor’ incident”.

For its part, the DfE has said it will be providing practical tools for schools to manage pupil data more effectively, including guidance on how to log incidents of poor behaviour in a simpler way.

On parental communication, the report reminds schools that the statutory duties are “relatively lean” on what must be reported to parents. It adds: “Some schools have adopted practices that are incredibly burdensome for teachers, which go beyond their statutory duties, without proven benefits for pupils.”

Elsewhere, performance management is another area where some schools are requesting too much data. School leaders are asked to consider “the burden of gathering evidence” and whether their approach “is proportionate for all staff, including trainees and NQTs”.

The report also asks the DfE to create guidance for headteachers on how to conduct teacher appraisals and the use of pupil targets and attainment data.

Mr Hinds said: “I am united with the unions and Ofsted in wanting teachers to do less admin. I have a straightforward message to headteachers who want their staff to cut right down on collecting data to be able to devote energies to teaching: I will support you.

“Frequent data drops and excessive monitoring of a child’s progress are not required either by Ofsted or by the DfE.”

Chair of the Workload Advisory Group, Professor Becky Allen – director of the Centre for Education Improvement Science at the UCL Institute of Education – said the group had found “some common themes and widespread data practices that don’t help pupil progress but do increase teacher workload”.

She added: “I hope that the principles and advice we have provided for schools will help them to question their current practice to change this.”

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