Sunday, 23 October 2016

Professionalism and Professional Learning

This week I have been doing some thinking about professional learning and how this is underpinned by teacher identity and values, and how these contribute to the professionalism of teachers, here are some thoughts;
First of all, I think we can all agree with Chapman who asserts that “the quality of teaching is a critical factor influencing students learning” (2012:387). So how do we as an education system, support teachers professional learning and provide a quality learning experience which influences both teachers as professionals and teachers daily practice?
Gewirtz (2009) discusses teacher learning occurring in three modes which are “participation, construction (social learning) and acquisition (deficit model), so teachers professional learning is complex as it is a mixture of pedagogy, subject knowledge and practice, and is also strongly influenced by values.
A teacher’s professionalism reflects professional learning and values, and can be considered an individual perspective. However, Mitchell (2013:388) argues that there is a tension in this concept of teacher professionalism being individual as it is also “consensually derived”. Thus, if an individual is being unprofessional then they are acting in ways that does not comply with the consensus.
There is an argument that professional learning focuses mainly on aspects of behaviours and rarely considers either the ‘lived experience’ or ‘meaning making’ and as it influences only surface level practice and does not help teachers to get underneath and deepen their knowledge and skills, it is ‘more new learning’ rather than ‘deepening learning’. Various authors have contributed to these differing ideas of professional learning, Guskey asserts that the goals of professional learning are defined by “change in the classroom practice of teachers, change in their attitudes and beliefs, and change in the learning outcomes of students”, and Mitchell (2013) discusses professional learning as “the process whereby an individual acquires or enhances the skills, knowledge and or attitudes for improved practice”, both contributing to the idea that professional learning is about ‘more new learning’. Day and Fraser are more aligned the deepening of learning through reflection and moral purpose, Day’s definition talks about “the process by which teachers review, renew and extend their commitment as change agents to the moral purposes of teaching” and Fraser (2007) contends that professional learning is about “broader changes that may take place over a longer period of time”.
Research can influence how teachers think about and engage in professional learning. Research can help to underpin practice but also challenge ideas and assumptions about practice and values. Engaging in and with research can supporting teachers to become agents of their own learning and help increase teacher professionalism, promoting professional autonomy to create and decide ‘my leaning needs’ and ‘my learning journey’. Therefore, professional learning undertaken by teachers should involve opportunities to work together and to ask questions of their own practice and indeed the practice of others, which needs to be promoted and supported. This is high on the agenda for Scottish education and must remain so, if we are to be true to the aspiration of being enquiring professionals.
Practitioner enquiry is a vehicle to support teachers to engage with theory, policy and practice within their own local environment and is congruent with the act of ‘becoming’. It should lead to deep transformative learning, which significantly informs and influences a professionals’ understanding, practice and impact on pupil experiences. Engaging in enquiry helps teachers to “‘let go’, unlearn, innovate and re-skill in cycles of professional learning throughout their career in response to changing circumstances”, Menter et al (2011) and Sachs (2003) argues that undertaking practitioner enquiry can “act as an important source of teacher and academic professional renewal and development”.
Engaging in research may take the form of a simple enquiry based on a few questions or may involve a more structured and systematic professional learning opportunity where the enquiry is more in-depth and rigorous in methodology, evidence of impact and analysis.
Other forms of professional learning can also support teachers to deepen their knowledge and improve their practice, and although attending a one-off event can be enjoyable and beneficial, unless this has impact on practice it is not the best use of a teacher’s precious time. Professional learning needs to challenge the ‘going on a course’ mentality and move to finding the learning and research that meet the professional learning needs of teachers and support their learning journeys.
Teacher professionalism and professional learning, asks teachers examine their own beliefs, assumptions and behaviours so they can contribute to equality and social justice for all learners. It asks teachers to continue to improve and deepen their knowledge, skills and abilities in ways that keeps their practice relevant, fresh and alive, and to balance accountability with professional autonomy. All of this is expected and more, from teachers who are in the main intrinsically motivated, dedicated, have an altruistic disposition and drive to make a difference to the young people of Scotland.

Menter, I Elliott, D Hulme, M. Lewin, J Lowden K. (2011) A Guide to Practitioner research in Education. SAGE publishing
Sachs (2003) The Activist Teaching profession: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice

Volume 9, Issue 2, 2003

Mitchel, R. (2013) What is professional development, how does it occur in individuals and how may it be used by educational leaders and managers for the purpose of school improvement? Professional development in Education, 39:3, 387-400

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Reflections on ‘The Global Fourth Way’

During my week of annual leave, I had time to delve into the ‘The Global Fourth Way’ by Hargreaves & Shirley (2012), below are some thoughts and observations from this.
The globalisation of education has led to extensive policy borrowing and transmission across continents. In their book ‘The Global Fourth Way’ Hargreaves and Shirley (2012) discuss the changing paradigms of education across the globe and build on their previous work in investigating the conditions and readiness of education systems to move forward and react to our 21st century learners.
Global education has many influencers and as we are influenced by a global economy we are in danger of education moving from being a traditional and altruistic venture into what Diana Ravich calls “venture philanthropy”. This is where prominent individual who create education foundations “converged in support of reform strategies that mirrors their own experience in acquiring huge fortunes, such as competition, choice, deregulations, incentives, and other market driven approaches” (p2). This backward looking model also has a foothold in the aspirations of parents who have a nostalgic attachment to traditional schools and their familiarity. This is well meaning and brings much needed money into the system but the direction of travel can be regressive referencing at ‘what worked for me’ and trying to replicate this in a different time not taking into consideration changes and developments.
Moving to a more innovate way of being and learning requires change. Christensen et al put forward their theory of disrupting innovation which predicts that a “vast wave of innovation” will overtake schools, leading to a transformation in public education. They warn that this may include the termination of schooling as we know it, unless the education system can adapt to digital innovations and embrace alternative providers. The current thinking of subject silos is one of the inhibiting factor which may prevent a reinvention of schooling but there has to be a will to change from the ‘purity and hierarchy’ of subjects and manage the backlash which will inevitably come from any innovation that challenges this particularly at ‘life determining points’ for high achieving children.
The Third Way found in some countries, e.g. England and Canada, evidenced some gains in terms of teacher’s morale and student achievement. The Third Way emphasises a top down model where data, in the form of target setting, is championed. The extensive use of data usually goes hand in hand with the use of technologies to support the data driven education system. Hargreaves & Shirley give caution here as technology can quickly become ‘overextended, distracting, and self-defeating’ (p39) and ‘exacerbate an already excessive belief in or dependence on data’ (p39) as a mean of improvement.
This leads us onto the Fourth Way which can be characterised by an ‘inspiring and shared moral purpose to transform learning and achievement for all’, with targets being self-directed ‘not politically imposed’ (p9). A broad curriculum with a range of learning for all young people, where teachers develop the curriculum collaboratively are also in integral to the Fourth Way of educational change.  Alongside this is an aspiration of data to inform teacher inquiry and decision making within communities of learning, where leadership is ‘about developing and sustaining responsibility for innovating and changing together’ (p9) – collective responsibility
The issue of assessment and testing is one that is predominant in the discourse in Scotland at the moment as the National Improvement Framework is being actioned. An issue with high stakes testing is that it can lead to a distortion of learning and teaching as teacher can ‘teach to the test’. Assessment should be seen as a signpost for the learning that has happened and how well it has been taught. It is more about the progress in learning rather than the product of learning at a particular point in time. Hargreaves & Shirley frame this as “learning is the true purpose of schools and the point to testing and all assessment should be to support that learning, not diminish and distort it” (p182). In the Fourth Way testing is
‘prudent, not pervasive. It is part of the system but does not dominate or distort it”
 Hargreaves & Shirley define five principles of professionalism, which are
·         Professional capital
·         Strong professional associations
·         Collective responsibility
·         Teaching less to learn more
·         Mindful uses of technology
 Professional capital is the product of human capital, social capital and decisional capital. Valuing professionals begins with the signals of trust and respect sent from leaders and policy makers. Where professionals are highly respected and engage with the public, they can enact their social capital that has a positive influence on the lives of their colleagues and the young people they work with.
 The expectation of professional educators is in line with all professionals who are expected to undertake professional learning to upgrade their skills and knowledge, professional reflection on their own and the practice of others, professional enquiry through engaging with and in research. Hargreaves & Shirley go further as state that “being a professional means going far beyond what is in any written contract. If you are fixated on your contract then you have a job, not a profession” (p196).
All improvement should have impact on the pupil experience and outcome. As describes by UNESCO, learning should be about “know and learning to do” but also “learning to be, personally and spiritually, and learning to live together in community and society” (p189).
However, there are limitation in the cycle of improvement, described by Hargreaves & Shirley as the paradox of improvement which is “knowing you have to quit when you are still look like you’re ahead”. So know where you want improve, know how to improve and the impact of that improvement but be aware of when to quit and move on before you reach the attrition point, Hargreaves & Shirley state this as the need to “harmonise incremental improvements and disruptive innovations” (p27).
Hargreaves, A. & Shirley, D. (2012) The Global Fourth Way – The quest for Education Excellence: Sage Publications: London

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Feilte, professionalism and professional learning

During the Teaching Council Ireland Learning Festival, Feilte, I was struck by the similarity between the conversation in Scottish education and education in Ireland. Hot topics for both nations are professionalism and professional learning.

Teacher confidence and professionalism is based on their knowledge, experiences, skills and abilities and is firmly rooted in the values, assumptions and beliefs they hold. So what are the small wins that motivate you and keep you in teaching and as a learner? 

While you ponder that simple yet profound question, think about your daily routines with your classes. What energy do you bring? Teachers are the catalyst for the learning that goes on in their room, they create the energy and vibe for learning. 

Where do you make a difference? Who have you supported to have a lightbulb moment? Who smiled at you, because you were the only person who said their name? Teachers cannot underestimate the 'power' they have to make a difference to a child's life.

At the heart of this is relationships. Developing relationships and knowing children is one of the most important factors in helping children learn. One of my core beliefs is "they don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care", so show them how much you care. This investment in children and young people is crucial and because you have invested time and energy, the children and young people have an increased investment in your relationship and become accountable for their own learning through that relationship.

Professionalism is underpinned by your values, assumptions and beliefs. In challenging your own assumptions, values and beliefs think about the 'white mask' that some children wear to fit in because they cannot see themselves reflected back through the curriculum or through the experience of education. Who are the 'invisibles' in your classroom? Who is wearing a 'white mask'? How are you displaying your assumptions about race, gender, sexual orientation, learning ability etc.? Do you need to stop and challenge your pedagogies and learn about yourself and how you project your values?  Do you understand diversity in all its guises so you can teach in an equitable way? Do you know and understand and use wisely, the influence you have in children's development?  And do you accept, understand and use wisely, your position as a role model?

Another aspect of professionalism that is profoundly impactful and requires time, space and energy is professional learning. Within the busyness of teaching, where do you find the time to try new things? To challenge your thinking? Or to develop your teaching practice? 

Time is a major issue for all teachers across the globe. There are competing demands such as administration tasks, preparation and correction and improvement planning which all consume large swathes of teacher’s non-contact time. Then teachers are expected to still have the energy to be creative and innovative in their practice.

In my experience the best way to innovate practice is by talking with colleagues both from within and beyond your own school. Teachers are the best resource in education. Professional collaboration and sharing is one of the best ways to move forward and challenge your practice. When you share your learning it becomes more powerful to you and is also more credible to your colleagues than an 'outside expert' telling them that 'it will work'.

Professionalism also requires teachers to have a voice and to think critically about policy and their practice. Teachers voices matter. Teachers can be the agents of change for the education system if they take responsibility for their own professional learning and become solution orientated, to become better tomorrow than they were today. Teachers should plan for meaningful professional learning that enhances their practice. The better prepared teachers are, by having a purposeful focus for both their own learning and the pupils learning, the better chance of improving attainment for all learners.

Excellence and equity can be achieved through the creation of space and time for professional collaboration and teacher agency.  The creation of time requires a change in the focus of the education system to prioritise professional learning. This change accompanied by a cultural shift to professional collaboration becoming the norm will empower teachers to challenge and support each other's learning and be the agents of change. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

What is the purpose of education?

In the run up to the Scottish Learning Festival this week, I have been thinking a lot about professionalism and values and why these are so important. This then led me to the biggest question of all, which is, what is the purpose of education? How do values and professionalism tie in with the purposes of education? So here are some thoughts.

In discussing the purpose of education, there is often a narrow view about the products of education and the current theories of learning are insufficient to capture what education is about. Education can be described as multi-dimensional. The multi-dimensions that it serves are economic, social, spiritual, cultural and political aspects of individuals lives. Education for the masses was originally about promoting a literate society, which has evolved to a learned society where educators are being asked to prepare young people for their futures in a rapidly changing world and to enable them to compete in a global economy.  Politicians often discuss education in terms of economic capital, being a cornerstone of society and essential for developing life skills.

Key documents in Scottish Education such as those relating to the Scottish Attainment Challenge, the National Improvement Framework and Curriculum for Excellence all have as a central tenet that the purpose of education is to create a more successful country with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth. This is to ensure that all our children and young people are equipped through their education, to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens, the 4 capacities of Curriculum for Excellence.

According the Biesta (2010), the point of education is “not that students learn but that students learn something, that they learn for a reason, and that they learn it from someone”, [original emphasis]. This can be restated as students need to learn - content with purpose within a relationship. The purpose of education is multi-dimensional and Biesta (2010) has suggested three domains of purpose which are interdependent and these are;

·         Transmission

o   qualifications (the acquisition of knowledge, skills and dispositions)

·         Socialisation

o   traditions and ethical norms for their culture

·         Subjectification

o   impact on the student as their own person

Learning is more about developing skills and capacities to keep pace with the changing global economy. When we are born we have innate instinct that can keep us alive but our ability to learn and to continue learning is what makes us human. We learn to continue to feed our brains new experiences, creating new connections and to reinforce existing connections. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. We learn more from independent study, play through interacting with others informally, sharing our learning and through trial and error.

The language of learning is insufficient for expressing what matters in education and has moved teachers and learning into the abstract of ‘supporting’ or ‘promoting’ learning, while discounting the ‘of what’ and ‘for what’ in the learning. ‘Learnification’ is a term coined by Biesta (2010) to describe the ‘new language for learning’ which has been created in the discourse. This ‘learnification’ has moved the language to everyone being described as ‘learners’, schools becoming ‘places of learning’ and adult education becoming ‘life-long learning’.

So the purpose of education can be considered from two different world views. The first, the formal world, which consists of schools, further and higher education, creating a standardised model of ‘21st century learners’. The second, the informal world, where knowledge, information and skills are transmitted to the willing by the wise.


Biesta, G. (2015); What is education for? On Good Education, teacher Judgement, and Educational Professionalism: European Journal of education, Vol 50, No.1

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Research in the classroom - Reflections from ResearchED

At ResesarchED this weekend, teachers, academics and 'others' gathered to share, debate and present ideas around research in education, schools and classrooms. 

One of the sessions I attended was presented by James Murphy (@horatiospeaks) the title of which was 'Research design you can use in the classroom'. The title resonated with me, as I have been thinking a lot recently about enquiry and research, particularly with the #SCELenquire events coming up soon, here, for which I am doing the keynote for the Edinburgh event, but also leading a learning conversation at each of the other events.

At GTCS, we are strongly focused on teacher professionalism and teacher identity, and how to support teachers to engage with research to develop an ‘enquiry as stance’ disposition through undertaking practitioner enquiry and other activities. One of the issues with this aspiration, is how to make enquiry and research meaningful but manageable for teachers, so they can engage with research to inform their practice but also generate their own research. So off I went to James’s session to try to find out more about how to support teachers research in their classrooms.

James's session challenged the myths about the need for large scale research in classrooms and offered a discussion on single subject 'quasi-experimental' research design to support teachers to be consumers and creators of research. 

Large scale research like random control trials (RCT), I would suggest are not the way forward, as for teachers they have more limitations than benefits. Firstly, there would be an issue with scale. The sample size would not be practical i.e. the number of participants needed would be in the thousands, this is unmanageable both in terms of access to that number of participants but also the time involved in doing such research. Secondly, cost, both monetary and time, for RCT is prohibitive for teachers. Finally, the depth of analysis i.e. separating out the variables is very difficult, RCT usually reports on a whole programme, not one variable, making this type of research very difficult given the multiplicity of factors that influence people and learning.

Quasi-experimental research, to use James’s description can be used by teachers in classrooms to enquire into and inform practice. There can be limitations with this type of research as these enquiries can have limited transfer. There is also an issue with the sample size, as it can range from a few individuals to a whole class, so can it be valid research? I would argue that it is valid, if it is contextualised and informs the teachers’ practice to support improved outcomes for young people and children with whom they support. To increase validity and the possibility of transfer, it would be valuable to be able to replicate the intervention/strategy. It is the responsibility of the teacher when they share their enquiry to describe their intervention/strategy clearly enough, for replication for themselves and other teachers. The data collected may also be questioned as often enquiry in classrooms relies on qualitative data. Qualitative data can be interpreted differently depending on the researchers’ bias, so it may be of interest to other teachers but it needs to be understood that the impact is highly contextualised with these pupils, within that classroom, at that time. There is also a further caution in that the relational data generated may show correlation between the intervention and impact, but without further study it does not give causation. Correlation taken as causation, can be dangerous, so in sharing and reporting findings teachers must acknowledge the limitations of their enquiry. Another consideration when carrying out an enquiry is the ethical dimension. The removal of an intervention/strategy to have replication has ethical implications, if we have removed an intervention/strategy where we have some evidence that works, it would be unethical to remove this just to show correlation or causation, depending on the research question. Using control groups also has ethical implications, I suggest it would be unethical to prevent one group of pupils receiving an intervention/strategy, that has some evidence that works to show impact and causation. An alternative to this would be to use students as their own control, this allows isolation of the variable and the teachers to do a comparable study of pupils, before and after the intervention/strategy as evidence of impact.

To finish the session James offered a simple enquiry framework, see below.

I would add to this the literature review, which should underpin any enquiry. Once the enquiry question has been defined, the teacher should find out what is already known about this. If you are a GTCS registrant, you can access academic journals and ebooks through the GTCS website, here, to help you.

I was asked to say why I was attending ResearchED, I wrote, I want to learn about new ideas and methods to support teachers to become enquiring practitioners and research informed’, I think this session perhaps did not give me anything new, but made me ask more questions about how the GTCS can support teacher professionalism and teacher identity through helping teachers to engaging with research and enquiry.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Getting it right for girls

Last week the EIS launched a report entitled ‘Getting it right for Girls’. This report shares findings about misogynistic attitudes in education and offers advice on how we, as an education system, can address this.

Misogyny, defined as -dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women - is influenced by factors such as the home environment, advertisement and the media. We have only to look at the recent media coverage of the Olympics to see misogyny in action, here. It is also true that there is a disproportionately low level of participation of women in public life and female politicians (and other prominent female figures) are routinely subjected to sexist comments in the press and via other media sources. I really liked to recent article in the Metro, here, which discussed Teresa May’s husband in the terms that are usually reserved for the female partner of a prominent male public figure. This piece perfectly highlights misogynistic reporting by the media.

The Legal Context

Misogyny can vary from overt sexual bullying to casual sexual comments or failing to conform to gender ‘norms’, which is often trivialised as humorous. The 2010 Equality Act identifies gender as a protected characteristic and as such schools and colleges are bound by the terms of the Public Sector Equality Duty, part of the 2010 Equality Act to;

·         eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation

·         promote equality of opportunity

·         remove or minimise disadvantages to meet the needs of the people from protected groups

·         encourage participation of protected groups

Misogyny should be challenged throughout the education system to modify behaviour and attitudes.

Misogynistic attitudes and behaviour

There are many types of misogynistic behaviours and attitudes all of which should be challenged. Some are developed in the home environment and through entrenched views, some are societal prejudices which are allowed to perpetuate and some are cultural. The following list in not exhaustive but gives some ideas of the daily prejudices against women;

·        Common use of misogynistic language such as ‘girly’ or overt sexualised and derogatory language

·        Dismissive or contemptuous attitudes towards females

·        Objectification of women and the use of social media to target sexual innuendo at females – which can be describes as bullying

·        Mockery and derision when women or girls adopt non stereotypical gender roles – this can leave the victim feeling rejected and the psychological effect can be long lasting

·        A double standard which criticises young girls who are sexually active

·        Physical violence is an extreme but commonplace expression of misogynistic attitudes, such as;

o   Physical, sexual or psychological violence

o   Sexual harassment or intimidation

o   Commercial sexual exploitation

o   Dowry related violence

o   Female genital mutilation

o   Forced or child marriages

o   Honour crimes

Gender pay gap

The effect of misogynistic attitudes and behaviours can be a significant hindrance to personal and social development. Statistically men are commonly the perpetrators and women and children more commonly the victims. Allowing the perpetration of dismissive, contemptuous attitudes towards women to go unchallenged can contribute to the persistence of the associated gender pay gap. The report shares a table of the percentage of male and female teachers in different roles (p10), below.

It is very interesting that Secondary, all grades is 63:37 (female to male) but secondary head teachers is the opposite proportion of 39:61 (female to male).


Changing attitudes and fostering community level intolerance and sanctions towards such misogynistic behaviour are required and all education establishments have a role to play in this.

Education establishments could;
·        Create a whole school policy with very precise language as to what is and is not acceptable

·        Have a school mission statement which safe guards against gender stereotyping

·        Have zero tolerance to misogynistic language and attitudes

·        Work with partners and support parents to tackle misogynistic language and attitudes

·        Considering how misogyny as gender stereotyping may impact on student subject choice and take steps to address this

·        Facilitate Equality and Diversity training for teachers which is linked to the values heralded in the Professional Standards and which underpins professionalism of teachers.

Misogyny has no place in the Scottish Education system or in society and is an issue that needs to be addressed. Education is well placed to move this agenda forward.  I recommend this report to you and you can access the whole report here.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Using enquiry and data to inform practice

This is my first blog of the new school session and I am still trying to get to grips with data literacy. This new terminology has recently been included in policy but there has been no definition offered. This is my current working definition:

Data literacy is the ability to derive meaningful information from data. Originally this was viewed as numerical and statistical data interpretation with an understanding the reliability of data to draw conclusion. This definition has been expanded to include the ability to ask and answer questions using data as part of evidence based thinking. This evidence based approach uses the most appropriate data, and interprets it to develop and evaluate data based inferences and explanations to solve real problems and communicate findings. The data collected could be both qualitative or quantitative in nature and can be derived from big data set through to classroom observations and professional noticing. 

I have also recently read a few books on data literacy and am still working through the implications for teacher learning in generating, analysing and making evidence based improvements and how this ties with the aspiration for an ‘enquiring profession’ first discussed in Teaching Scotland’s Future, here.

What is data?

Schools are rich with data and can take many forms. There are obvious forms of data such as attainment data but we need to look beyond this and uncover other sources of data that already exist. Discussing and using different forms of data dispels the myth that data can only be obtained through assessment. For example, other forms of data may include;

·         Student surveys

·         Teacher survey

·         Parent surveys

·         Learning observation notes

·         Student exit tickers

·         Student narratives

·         Focus groups

What do we need to be data literate?

Data provides the opportunity to inform our practice (evidence based practice) but data must be interpreted to inform our next steps before it has any power to inform. Teachers and schools need to create the time to develop conversations around rich data to support improvement. School leaders need to champion the use of rich data not just numerical/attainment data to build and support a culture where it is the norm to discuss evidence based practice. Leaders need to publically commit to using data so it becomes a priority and will pervade the culture and ethos of the school.

Create a data inventory – what data do we already have?

School leaders and teachers could create an inventory to collect together all of the possible sources of data that already exist in school. Schools are data rich, we now need to move this to become data enriched (accessing and using the data). A possible data inventory may look like to one below.

Data source
Dates of learning observations
Year group observed
Where is this information stored/collated
How do we use this data?

How can we use this data better? What else can it be used to inform/improve?

This can help to pull together an assessment calendar which will help both teachers and pupils to manage their workload, and can also identify where time and space can be created to talk about data.

Staff also need to develop skills in interacting with, using data and drawing inferences and conclusions. Sometimes data is presented in ways that prevents teachers from accessing the information, leaders therefore have a role to play in finding sensible ways to redisplay the data to help the underlying narrative and themes become apparent.

It may be helpful to have a list of specific questions in mind as you examine the data, for example;

·         Are there any trends? For groups of pupils? Over time?

·         Are you interested in a subset of pupils only? Do you want to compare across cohorts? Subjects?

·         Do you want to analyses individual progress? Group progress? Cohort progress?

·         Do you want to focus on high attainers? Low attainers? Off target pupils?

·         Do you want to focus in across department comparisons/ in school comparisons? Using insights data?

Once the data is in an appropriate format it helps to stimulate conversations and interrogation of the data, which leads to further questions such as;

·         What questions does this raise?

·         How are we going to address these?


Embedding data in collaborative practice is essential. A collaborative enquiry cycle can support teacher to enquiry into their practice and help develop of an enquiring mindset. Teachers can to generate data and make inferences through professional noticing. To make this more powerful it can be done by asking questions before inferences are drawn, e.g. what did you see? (with no interpretation). This can lead to better conversations about pupils’ learning as the focus is on fact and not interpretation of fact. If it is framed as a learner-centred problem, i.e. this is what I saw, the problem can be about the learning and not the learners and can give a question to start an enquiry. This questioning can start with ‘as teachers, we….’, this keeps the focus on the learning and brings buy-in from teachers. Undertaking an enquiry with a determined focus is both an end and a means. It is easy to get consensus around a focus that does not require teachers to make a change to their practice, so the more teachers are involved in selecting the focus, the more committed they will be in implementing the change. The collective success of the enquiry and how any changes are implemented based on the evidence of the enquiry, will depend on the synergy and trust of the teachers and leaders involved.

Undertaking an enquiry, increases clarity and transparency as leaders and teachers can collaboratively think and work through the enquiry cycle. The enquiry should start with an agreed focus. How you are changing? is a better question than what are you changing? At the start of the enquiry, it is also important to think about and agree how this will be addressed in the classroom, what will it look like? what will it sound like? what will it feel like? Putting this into writing with deliverables, timescales and the evidence to be collected sharpens the focus of the enquiry. Next you have to get creative about what resources you are going to use and how these are to be shared. This will require everybody to bring something to the table whether that is literature or a strategy or interesting practice. The next stage of the enquiry planning is to decide how the data will be evaluated with appropriate timescale and milestones, it is important to include a student voice at this stage so that this done with students and not to students.

Now that the planning phase is completed with some underpinning from literature, it is time to collect data.

Evaluating the data

Once data has been collected it can then be analysed to draw conclusions and inform next steps. This is powerful if leaders and teachers can work together to interrogate both the data and their own findings. It can be helpful to employ a coaching approach and use questions that support deep reflection such as:

·         What led you to conclude…?

·         I am hearing you say…is that correct?

·         I’m wondering what you mean by…?

So when feeding back to the collaborative group, these questions are asked to clarify and distil the findings to produce informed decisions about the data. The conclusions should be supported by the evidence, again a coaching approach can help support this process, for example, possible sentence starters for the reporter could be;

·         I see…

·         I noticed that…

·         I saw evidence of…

Create a living document that can capture these reflections and can be added to over time, generating a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement. This improvement cycle using an evidence based approach can inform school improvement planning.

Through the enquiry cycle, teachers should also interrogate the changes to their thinking and practice and note this in the professional learning log, so that their learning is not assumed or lost in the change cycle, but is also reflected upon and can be used to inform their next steps in their teachers’ journey.

Generating, collecting and analysing data is important to inform school improvement, teacher learning and the life chances of pupils, but the real power of data is not that it provides answers but that it inspires teachers to ask questions.