May 12

Data is a Four Letter Word


It’s the 4 letter word of my last few years in the classroom.

Because the current overuse of data is the thing that annoys me most in our ‘modern’ school system.  It is one of the biggest reasons for leaving a teaching job.

Don’t get me wrong - I have no problem with using the information available to understand what a child might be good at, or struggle with.

Assessment data is important to identify where students need additional help - or where I might improve what I do.

I have been doing these things since the year I qualified as a teacher almost 20 years ago. They are an essential part of meeting the needs of the children I teach. 

But our 'modern' school systems have gone data mad ..

And it’s having a terrible impact, both on the teachers who work in the system .. and the students we teach. 

In my most recent teaching job, I spent more time at school completing data exercises to PROVE I’m doing my job - than creating the learning experiences students actually enjoy. 

We had regular 2 hour sessions to find a range of data for each class and student we teach - and then complete various forms to prove we were using it. 

This time used to be spent discussing creative approaches to teaching certain subjects or students. 

 reasons for leaving a teaching job

The mad hatter management style 

Sadly we now have very little time for collaborative planning or creative discussion. 

Both are now relegated below data and paperwork - which is only necessary because management no longer trust me to do my job.

But the impact of data on the students is much worse ..

The purpose of tracking endless data points is to improve outcomes for the child. 

However for many students the opposite is true. 

I now have far less time to consider individual personalities - because instead my priority is to see them as lines of data on a spreadsheet.

I can prove they are learning .. because of the endless assessments I am told I have to flood their experience with.

But too many of them are hating the experience as a result. 

Gone are the lessons where we can indulge a crazy idea .. or plan a scheme of work where the primary output is creative - and more difficult to measure. 

Our ‘modern’ system has reduced the student experience to a series of data checkpoints.

And when students achieve something - rather than have time to celebrate this, often another target is thrust immediately in front of them ..

This simply gives them the impression that they are never good enough. 

In our search for improvement - data has become the enemy of an enjoyable education.

It is more important than having fun.

As a result, many of my students can't wait to leave the overly academic system which ‘teaches’ them behind. 

Sadly, our ‘modern’ school system has reduced the student experience to a series of data checkpoints

Click to Tweet

What a damning inditement of our ‘modern’ system that is.

Overly data driven management is to blame ..

It kills teacher and student enthusiasm.

It reduces our appetite for risk because it punishes mistakes. 

And it treats essential skills like creativity as insignificant because they can’t be easily measured.

Happiness can’t either - that doesn’t make it unimportant!

Our modern school system is characterised by students who can’t wait to leave .. and teachers who aren’t far behind them.

The ridiculous increase in workload teachers have experienced in recent years, is ultimately down to the way data is managed in education.

An unwelcome fact that most school leaders seem to forget - is that teachers only have so much time.  Filling it with data just leaves me less able to plan imaginative experiences, and provide timely feedback to my students.

Managements’ pig-headed insistence that the numerous data driven ’non-negotiable’  additions to my teaching job, MUST be done - doesn’t make this any more possible!

And I am sick of hearing "teachers must work smarter".

I reached my limit ages ago - and many teachers I know have sacrificed their own health and family lives trying to live up to these unrealistic workload expectations.

School leaders must manage smarter!

.. and treat teachers less like they are abusing donkeys.

Whipping us with unrealistic expectations until we crack - then replacing us with a younger model.

Many teaching jobs now bear more than a passing resemblance to an abusive relationship - and data is the stick we are most often beaten with.

teachers are treated like abused donkeys

"Heee Haww" say 'modern' teachers

Teachers don’t mind hard work - and I didn't join the profession expecting to work in a challenging classroom until the age of 60 something .. 

But I also didn’t join it to be burned out in my 40's!

Data Alone, Is Not To Blame ..

Much as I have learned to hate it, data alone is not to blame.

It's the way data is misused to manage the 'modern' school system that causes these problems.

I understand well that you measure what you want to improve .. and that data is important to do this.  

But it is first necessary to be sure of exactly what you want students to leave education with .. and not exclusively pick academic skills, because they are easier to measure.

Because ..

"Everything that can be counted, doesn't necessarily count ... and everything that counts, cannot necessarily be counted"  (Anon) 

For many teachers I speak to, misuse of data by management is amongst the biggest reasons for leaving a teaching job.

I have written a post to help teachers who are tired working in the system, it outlines the options you have when looking for alternative work:

373 Fresh Alternatives for Teachers Tired of Their Classroom Job

If this resonates with you, please share it ...

About the author 

James Anthony

After teaching for 20 years in the UK, I now help Schools, Universities, and Entrepreneurs to create and deliver transformational online learning.
I also work with educators across the world helping them use their skills in new ways - to live happier healthier lives.


You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Sounds super stressful. I wonder if we are as data driven and crazy in Australian schools. Didn’t seem like it when I did my prac 4 and 5 years ago. I now (thankfully) work in preschool, where we do two formal assessments a year, the rest is informal observations. The kids of course are very young 3-4 years old. I’m nervous about teaching in the primary school due to the administrative pressures and also the push to treat parents and families as clients and therefore the teacher being so accountable for each student’s good or not so good grades. Thanks for the post. It was enlightening. Hope things improve at your school system James Anthony.

    1. Thank you Miia .. I resigned recently because I couldn’t go on working in a system I disagree so much with.

      In UK schools over-testing is endemic .. the government is now proposing baseline tests for 4 year olds – from which a ton of targets (& pressure) will appear.

      Learning should be fun – if it isn’t we fail to light a fire inside our young people which says “I can learn the things I need in the future” ..

      It’s cliche but true, that a large percentage of the jobs students currently in school might do in the future are impossible to prepare students for, because they have yet to be invented.

      And yet we are failing to prepare young people for this future – by relegating creativity and problem solving behind academic skills.

      As a teacher I just could not work any longer in a system that does this.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}