Problems with the Data Dashboard

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The recent focus on able governance is welcome, but the debate has ignored the vital link between governors and school culture. Julian Stanley explains.

We are in the process of defining our organisation’s culture and values. It is no mean feat. For any culture to be successful, it naturally requires the buy-in of all staff. We have, therefore, over the last year or so, held an array of staff meetings and discussions.

That is not to say Teacher Support Network did not already have values. Every organisation has some kind of culture, whether good or bad, we have just been trying to write ours down. We are, in effect, outlining a cultural model for the charity; a benchmark for us all to work to – and, perhaps just as importantly, for others slightly removed from us to have a clearer understanding of the way we work.

This does not mean that there has been no input from our trustees. It is vital that any culture and values are developed and adopted by the governing body.

This “top-down, bottom-up” approach, we believe, will lead to shared norms of style, behaviours and approach. The culture and values will become a platform for trustees to measure our progress and a standard with which to hold us all to account (and vice-versa). After all, how can anyone working outside the day-to-day activity of an organisation truly help it develop and grow unless they understand its culture?

This question came to mind again, when I listened to Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw announce his School Data Dashboard recently. The Dashboard, which will be available to governing bodies and the public, will provide key information about the performance of schools. This will help inform governing bodies, Sir Michael believes.

“In the worst cases, governors can be rather like the jury that was dismissed from a high-profile trial last week: ill-informed and not able to make good decisions,” he told the BBC.

The merits of this Dashboard will no doubt be discussed at length by all parties over the weeks and months to come, and Sir Michael is right to call for informed governance – but one thing that has not been talked about is the importance of school culture.

Like our small organisation, the culture and values of a school is key. Many of us will have experienced the benefits of working within safe, positive, supportive school environments, just as some will know the impact that a negative school environment will have on staff morale, stress levels and often sickness absence levels.

Yet if these factors are not considered, what real support can the governing body offer – especially if they do not understand the nuances behind the data they are looking at?

The Dashboard gives only a snapshot of important data in a school, but we must remember that people run organisations. There is a need for leadership at all levels that encourages people to succeed, remedy errors and to take responsibility to train and support staff, thereby creating a positive culture, before resorting to blame. 

Sometimes things do not work out with a particular member of staff, or in the case of a school, a teacher, pupil or even family, but what matters is how these matters are approached and dealt with, as much as the outcome for all concerned.

Similarly, just as schools are run by people, they are also staffed by people. What the Dashboard does not make clear to governors is whether sufficient resources are available to train and develop their staff. Nor is there scope for governors to monitor the health, wellbeing and concerns of the staff on a regular basis. There is no way for governors to measure how their workforce perceives change or for the trustees to appreciate the real issues at the chalkface.

To us, these questions may sound obvious, but here Sir Michael is right. Not all governors may be asking these questions. What we need is to create a culture where all those involved in the community of any school, charity or organisation, Teacher Support Network included, get the support they need.

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).


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