Data is still dominating working life for teachers

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

New workload research finds a third of teachers spend more time recording, monitoring and analysing data than they do preparing for their lessons. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Teachers are spending an average of six hours and 48 minutes testing and assessing students every week – the equivalent of 44 school days across the year.

The finding comes in new research, which has revealed that 30 per cent of teachers still spend more time recording, analysing and monitoring data than they do preparing lessons.

The study, involving more than 800 teachers, finds that four in 10 do not think their school takes issues of workload seriously. Many teachers do not believe that their schools act on Department for Education (DfE) workload advice, either.

The research report – entitled Crunched by numbers – found that seven in 10 teachers said they are asked to submit assessment data once a term. However, one in five have to submit data at least once a month and a small number said their schools demanded data submissions every week.

This is despite DfE guidance (July 2018) that says schools “should not have more than two or three data collection points a year”.

Indeed, since its Workload Challenge research and reports in 2016, the DfE has called for action by schools to reduce workload, including that associated with marking, lesson-planning and data-collection.

The DfE’s surveys at the time found that 53 per cent of teachers cited “excessive/depth of marking” and 56 per cent “recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data” as the main reasons behind excessive workload.

The subsequent working group report on data-use (DfE, 2016) said: “Too often the collection of data becomes an end in itself, divorced from the core purpose of improving outcomes for pupils, often just to ‘be ready’ in case data are needed. This increases the workload of teachers and school leaders for little discernible benefit.”

And last year, the DfE’s Teacher Workload Advisory Group published Making data work (November 2018), in which it warned: “Data is often used too much for monitoring and compliance, rather than to support pupil learning and school improvement. This audit culture can lead to feelings of anxiety and burn-out in staff.”

It led to former education secretary Damian Hinds and Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman calling in a joint letter for schools to act on reducing data workload. They asked headteachers to “minimise or eliminate the number of pieces of information teachers are expected to compile”, to introduce simpler systems for logging behaviour and pastoral information, and to review and reduce the number of attainment data collection points a year and how these are used. “As a rule, it should not be more than two or three a year,” they added (Hinds et al, 2018).

Teachers in the new research – which has been conducted by YouGov on behalf of GL Assessment – say that action by schools to address both marking and to reduce data collection would have the biggest impact on their workloads.

However, little seems to be changing. In June, research from the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS, 2019) found that more than half of all secondary teachers in England said their job is “unmanageable”, with the high volumes of marking faced by teachers remaining unchanged since the last TALIS report in 2013.

Kieran Scanlon, headteacher at Sir Robert Woodard Academy in West Sussex, said a lot of workload issues are around “how schools do assessment”. He explained: “Where it’s done well, where it has a genuine impact and gives teachers good information about who they’re teaching, everybody appreciates that.”

He continued: “There are a number of small steps you can take that will make a big difference. ‘Assessment’ is a big word, so break it down into its various forms and give clarity to what you’re doing and why. Be empowering, be focused and be honest. Good assessment ensures teachers have the information they need.”

Teachers in the research were not against data use – 61 per cent said that accurate assessment data helped them to do their jobs more effectively and 48 per cent said that this information helped to inform interventions.

However, in his foreword to the research report, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says that schools need take three steps with data. He writes: “First, we must stop using bad data – full stop. Obsessive data-drops say little that is meaningful about pupils. A limited number of really powerful assessments through the year is much more meaningful.

“The second step is to stop using good data in ways which are unhelpful or unsound. For example, GCSE targets for individual pupils based on national data can sometimes be motivating and helpful but aggregating those targets to form part of a teacher’s performance management is inappropriate.

“Third, we must all undertake to use good data wisely, being discerning about what can and can’t be inferred and knowing the limits of that data.”

Greg Watson, chief executive of GL Assessment, added: “Some schools are unnecessarily adding to teacher workload by insisting on too much assessment and record-keeping, wasting energy on admin when it should be focused on turning good data into better teaching and learning.”

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