You are only as good as your data

The role of data within schools is emphasised by many government regimes within education. There is a clear shift from intuitive decision-making to data-based informed decisions within any school setting. Most schools collect a variety of data, yet few educators are trained in analysing the results. Data on its own, without the correct analysis or interpretation is meaningless. Knowing how to use data, helps inform effective teaching practices and set school improvement plans to achieve desired targets. However, other than it being a national requirement, let’s look at how making data-informed decisions measure up over ones based on intuition and tradition. Read on to see how they compare…


Staff development

Intuitive and tradition-driven decision-making, can cause scattered staff development programs without clear focus or one that can easily get blurred, depending on those in charge. Staff assignments are likely to be based on interest and availability, which may allow for real needs to go unnoticed. Data-driven decision-making allows for staff development programs to focus on strategies to address problems and needs, which are documented and speak for themselves, allowing for clear target settings that everyone understands and is aware of. Furthermore, they are based on the skills needed, as indicated by the data analysis and not on interests or hunches.


Staff meetings

Staff meetings usually pass on information which could just be shared via email. When data is at hand, staff meetings can be more beneficial for all those attending by using them to focus on strategies and issues that are raised by the data itself. This allows for collaboration and reflection to take place as staff members become part of the decision-making process, identifying strategies to cover the needs of the pupils and school.



Intuitive and tradition-driven budget decisions are based on gut feelings and prior practice. These can act as poor judges of the true needs within a school setting. With sufficient data, a budget will be allocated to programs based on the data-informed needs within the school.



Target setting

The setting of goals that need to be met can be affected by fads, votes and administrators; this often allows educators to feel disconnected with the reasons for pursuing the goal and many times bail out. When the target setting is based on the data and the problems that arise from it, possible explanations need to be sought, allowing for everyone to become part of the target setting process making it more likely for the desired outcome to be reached.


Grading systems

Obtaining data and analysing it effectively requires a uniformity within the grading system that is based on common student performance criteria. Its success depends on the reliability of the data at hand and grading comes to the forefront, as it needs to be consistent and on the same level throughout the school. In a traditional setting, where intuitive decision-making prevails, grading can vary depending on the teacher without any serious effects.


Administrative meetings

Without data, the focus of these meetings is usually on operations to do with shifting goals, which again can be those set by administrators for convenience or tradition. With data-driven decision-making, goals are set and progress towards the improvement are measured with a focus on reaching the desired target.


Effective school improvement processes are cyclical and continuous, with no clear beginning or end. Having solid, reliable data and being able to analyse it effectively is key to continuous improvement. Part of setting targets is also failing to meet them at times. But, with a willingness to change, rigorous measurement of progress and carefully thought out strategies put in place the improvement process will take place. When interventions such as using new teaching techniques are evaluated and the effects on student learning recorded, it becomes clear as to what interventions are working and for whom. With this data, practices can be adjusted, plans redrafted, and the process will start again, in a cyclical movement, working to continuously improving your setting.

What data helps improve your teaching and your school? Leave a comment below.

Till next time…


Using Data to Raise Achievement – Good Practice in Schools

Data use in education: alluring attributes and productive processes

Guide to Using Data in School Improvement Efforts A Compilation of Knowledge From Data Retreats and Data Use, Learning Point Associates, December 2004

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