‘School performance data never, ever tells the full story’


If I were secretary of state for education, there’s a sentence I hope I would never use. And I can’t criticise them: they’re saying what we probably want to hear. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL writes in Tes.

And yet, I hope I’d never say it. The sentence is this: “We have the best generation of teachers ever.”

But I think it’s a sentence best avoided, because how do we know whether the current crop of teachers is the best generation ever? How would we ever know such a thing? And what does it say about those proud generations of former teachers, all of whom played their part in passing on to pupils the best that has been thought and said?

I was thinking this the other week when meeting school and college leaders in Durham and Preston. They told me how irksome it is, how insulting, when “schools in the North” are gathered together in a single soundbite to be criticised from Westminster for not instilling aspiration, standards and rigour.

Why, the implication goes, can’t they run schools more like those in London?

Why were we so slow to spot that a school with a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is likely to record a lower progress score than a school in a middle-class area, for the simple and unsurprising reason that disadvantaged young people often face greater challenges in their lives?

We need to be far more wary of generalising around the effectiveness of a single teacher or the quality of the nation’s teaching workforce.

And the same goes for leadership.

I meet outstanding leaders everywhere I go. I see them working in challenging contexts, in communities that lost faith in education decades ago, and staying there, relentlessly working with their staff to instil hope, ambition, pride and other qualities not easily captured in performance measures.

Instead, we need to recognise that schools, like the country they serve, exist in many different contexts; and we need to criticise less and celebrate more the exhausting, focused, relentless effort that goes on every day in every region.

Read the full article ‘School performance data never, ever tells the full story’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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