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The University of Southampton
Southampton Education School

Research project: Data dictatorship and data democracy: understanding professional attitudes to the use of performance data in schools - Dormant - Dormant

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April 2009 - December 2009

CfBT Education Trust has agreed to fund a research project by Professor Tony Kelly and Chris Downey to conduct a national survey of teachers’ utilisation of Value Added (VA) performance data.

The current suite of value added and contextualised value added (CVA) measures are considered to be ‘fairer’ measures of school effectiveness than raw examination scores because they account for factors beyond the control of the school. The explicit aim of providing such measures is to make schools data-rich and to foster a culture of intelligent accountability among teachers; the implicit assumption being that the provision of such data can improve teaching and raise the educational outcomes of pupils. To this end, school leaders and teachers are encouraged to use (C)VA data to monitor pupil progress, to set appropriate targets and to evaluate overall effectiveness, but the same data also forms part of the metrics by which schools are held publicly accountable through published performance tables and Ofsted inspections, and there is little evidence that teachers utilise this data to best effect.

Kelly and Downey will research levels of awareness of VA performance data among teachers and middle managers in secondary schools, gauge the extent to which such data is used for improvement purposes and describe the data-management structures employed by schools and how they impact on data usage. By using multi-level modelling techniques, they hope to establish the extent to which teacher attitude, school data-culture and VA scores impact on one another. CfBT is confident that the project will have a long-term impact on schools policy in England and Wales, particularly in resolving the tension between the use of attainment data for both accountability and improvement purposes. It is an under-researched area, yet there are few more important topics in School Effectiveness and School Improvement than how teachers work to improve pupil learning, and how schools build a supportive data culture around this imperative. What little research has been done has focused on school leaders and not on school teachers, and has not properly represented data culture as it affects classroom practice. Kelly and Downey have suggested in some recent publications that one obstacle to the development of a data-supportive culture lies in the terminology used to facilitate the professional dialogue needed when schools engage with data, so that ‘data literacy’ is an important research question for their project. (C)VA measures are based on complex statistical models and the data they generate carries with it a context-specific lexicon whose terms and cognates, while being straightforward to those familiar with their provenance, have different shades of meaning in everyday life.

The project will run for the calendar year 2009 and if successful, may roll out to a pan-European study the following year.

Funding: CfBT Education Trust.

Related research groups

Leadership, School Improvement and Effectiveness (LSIE) Research Centre
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