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National survey on use of pupil data in schools

Published: 22 June 2009

A group of researchers from the University of Southampton, led by Professor Tony Kelly and Dr Chris Downey of the School of Education, has embarked on an ambitious project to survey teachers in English secondary schools about their use of, and attitudes towards, pupil attainment and progress data.

Funded by the Centre for British Teachers (CfBT), it is the first national study of its kind to elicit the views of a range of teaching staff into this element of professional practice. Almost half of all maintained secondary schools in England have been contacted in recent weeks and invited to participate in the web-based survey.

Pupil target-setting, progress monitoring, departmental and school self-evaluation, performance management, Ofsted inspections, league tables, local and central funding allocations; these are just some of the expectations and demands already made of pupil attainment data. Over the past two decades, long before the former Minister for School Standards, David Miliband declared that schools were entering an era of ‘intelligent accountability’, there has been a marked shift in the use of such data to measure both pupil and school performance, but throughout, most of the effort has remained focused on headteachers and senior management.

This project focuses instead on classroom teachers, and its scale and scope should ensure that the results have the potential to shape new teaching practice and make a contribution to the current national consultation on school accountability measures.

Professor Kelly comments: “Use of data is an important and topical issue, as the new Ofsted framework reveals. The most likely shift in policy emphasis over the coming decade will be towards ‘realisability’ – turning the aspirations and objectives of policy into actual improvement in the classroom and in pupil achievement. In a sense, it is where the twin strands of school improvement and school effectiveness will become entwined. If pupil data can be used to guide classroom practice – what should be taught, to whom and when, and how expectations can be raised and in what circumstances – it has the potential to make for system-wide improvement in real terms.

“The old mantra of competition as ‘the tide to lift all boats’ is ringing hollow for those schools and pupils weighed down by circumstance,” he continues. “We need system-wide improvement and one route towards achieving that is for teachers to change their daily professional practice by ‘smart-use’ of pupil data.”

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