Published on: 20 Apr 2018

In the classroom, the main driver to gather pupil data must be to understand strengths and weaknesses of our pupils and adapt teaching and learning to match

By Jade Sewell, Business Development Manager, GL Assessment


We hear regularly that teacher workload is stretching professionals beyond their capacity. With accountabilities continually shifting as the academisation movement ploughs on and new structures designed to support better and quicker progress take hold, it’s understandable that ‘data’ can sometimes be seen as a ‘necessary evil’ to keep the education machine chugging along.

A recent teacher survey published by the National Education Union (NEU) highlighted a general sense of resentment in having to collect pupil data with half of the 8,000 teachers surveyed saying it is not clear how all data they have to collect will be used. 43% said that they don’t believe data collected helps pupils to progress. We saw similar stats when we conducted our own survey into data in the classroom.

With over 8 million children currently in schools in England, it’s clear data has a part to play in helping us to understand who our pupils are, what they capable of, whether they are performing to the best of their abilities and what barriers might be obstructing their learning. However, with such a volume of learners it’s also clear that we need to be very smart about what data we choose to collect, which audiences will find value in the data (to avoid information overload), and that the information is used to informed changes that drive improvements.

The first question to ask ourselves is if we don’t know why we gather information or what value it holds, why do we essentially waste precious hours gathering it? In the classroom, the main driver to gather pupil data must be to understand strengths and weaknesses of our pupils and adapt teaching and learning to match. So, if the main purpose of gathering pupil data is to support how and where to intervene – how many interventions is any individual school running at one time? 30, 50, 100?

With interventions requiring additional planning and tailored support, adding to additional teacher workloads, how are you able to use smart data to inform which are actually making a difference and which are not making enough impact for time invested?


Some additional questions that may appear obvious, but worthwhile asking each time you consider any form of data collection:

  • What data are teachers responsible for collecting? Are they the right people to be gathering information? Can any of this collection be automated to reduce workloads?
  • Are you clear about the purpose of each data collection?
  • Does each data report only have one intended audience? Can you gather data that can be used to satisfy a variety of stakeholders when presented in different ways?
  • What percentage of time is spent gathering the data as opposed to analysing it? More importantly, what actions are being taken to drive some form of tangible improvement to validate the time spent gathering and analysing the data?
  • Is the data used over time to monitor impact? Can you use progress/changes in learners’ data to track intervention success and therefore rank the value of interventions?


Data has multiple purposes and audiences, so it’s easy to see why teachers can feel like it places unnecessary pressure on their time, when more emphasis is placed on collecting rafts of data they don’t have the hours to wade through in order to dig out useful insights.

We need to flip the process so that we can use quick, simple and automated methods to gather information then offer greater support in being able to read and analyse large data sets in order to pinpoint the questions we should be asking - such as ‘what’s going on here with this pupil or cohort?’ - to offer insight as to what the next steps must be.

Maybe more importantly, the last step is to proactively monitor the impact of the subsequent actions and interventions over time to empower teachers to understand what is really making a difference and what they should be able to challenge as a bad use of their time.

Smarter use of data will be able to support reducing teacher workload and then maybe it might help convert this tool of ‘necessary evil’ to just a teaching necessity.


Follow Jade on Twitter @Assessment_Jade