Data: is it back to 2019?

The DfE has just released the first cut of unvalidated KS4 data. SSAT’s Educational Outcomes is now available to member schools based on it. It’s just like autumn 2019 all over again. Everything is back to how it was. Or is it?

Not so long ago, ‘data-driven transformation’ was the buzzword. Data was king. We follow the data. The data is telling us it’s so. If anyone asked why, ‘it’s for Ofsted’.

In schools across the country, cottage industries sprang up as deputy heads developed ever more complex and impressive data tracking systems. Somewhat larger industries made huge amounts of money providing the ultimate in data systems to schools.

Ofsted inspectors pored over expected levels of progress and the attainment of autumn-born white British boys on free school meals.

And then came the pandemic. No external data. Inspectors won’t even look at internal assessment data. No accountability for exam results.

And did the sky fall in? Well, no. Now that we have validated results due in January, ASP and the IDSR out this month and an Ofsted workforce aiming to get back to normal, is it back to how we were? Well, no again.

To be fair, Ofsted stopped using historical data as a key evidence base for inspection with the introduction of the new framework in 2019. The IDSR had already been pared down to stop inspectors and schools pointlessly drilling down to meaningless sub-groups of pupils.

So, if the sky didn’t fall in, does that mean we can safely put away our charts and tables and concentrate on the most important thing, which is teaching? Well, no, yet again. But I do think that we can start to use data more intelligently. And to do that, we first have to understand the benefits and limitations of data.

Data doesn’t give all the answers. Sometimes it just helps you know where to look for more information. It can prompt further questions – ‘why is this happening?’ probably being the most useful. And even if data can give some answers, you have to know what questions you want answered in the first place. ASP and the IDSR aren’t great oracles that will impart their wisdom through some kind of osmosis. You have to interrogate them to get what you want. And to do that, you need to be relatively data literate – not a statistician, not a mathematician – so that you can interpret them accurately and then filter that knowledge through your own professional judgement.

Fortunately, both Ofsted and the DfE acknowledge that the pandemic affected the results for summer 2022 in different schools in different ways. “Compare School Performance” is being re-named “Find school and college performance data” (temporarily?) to take account of that. Groups of schools are agreeing to celebrate results together, rather than individually.

But we can still learn from independent analyses of our data, not just to confirm or challenge our judgements on past results but also to indicate where we might need to do things better or differently from now on. And to do that, we need to have a good understanding of key data concepts and of how ASP, the IDSR, FFT Aspire and other sources together provide the information we’re after.

It’s been two years. Are we ready to make a break with the past without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Colin Logan will be running a series of five webinars beginning on Thursday 28 September 2023 covering key data ideas and concepts, ASP, the IDSR, FFT Aspire and Key Stage 5 data for those who are new to data and those who want to refresh their previous knowledge.

Find out more

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