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Data in its place

The place of data in our schools is a point of conjecture for School Leaders everywhere.  We know it’s important, we know we’re accountable for it and we know it’s not going away.

But there are several aspects of working with data that we are still yet to fully get a handle on.  For instance:

  • Do we wish our schools to be data driven or data informed?
  • Do we view data as a component of a broader evidence body or the defining feature?
  • How skilled are we at discerning valuable data from irrelevant data?
  • Are we measuring what counts … or merely counting what can be measured?

These are critically important questions for schools to be discussing.  For without dialogue in this important space, we are relying on others – media, governments, administrators – to determine solely what matters in our schools.  It’s incumbent on School Leaders to have a voice in this national – and even international – conversation.  So let’s sharpen our tools and grapple with the big data question.  No fear!

Firstly, an acknowledgement that you are an expert in your field is vital.  As a School Leader who works in the field every single day you are best positioned to determine how well our practice in schools is matching the characteristics required by our students to be successful young adults.  Your opinion is evidence that we simply cannot ignore.  So speak up.

With this in mind, School Leaders should also discuss what the purpose is of a contemporary school.  Is it about academia?  Is it about citizenship?  Is it about life skills?  And to what extent are these or any other domains dominant in your context?

I’d contend that whatever demographic and geographic uniqueness that you work within that there are some fundamental purposes that all schools can adopt.  These are that schools need to be about:

  • Learning – knowledge is still important and intellectual skill acquisition is now equally crucial due to the rapidly growing information base available to young people.
  • Collaboration – the ability and the confidence to work with other people to achieve.
  • Creativity – the art of problem solving, innovating and designing new ways and solutions.

If these ring true with you, then you already have a roughly defined purpose.  So the challenge is – prove it.  Where’s your data in these areas?  While learning data might be easily accessed in today’s school, our focus in Collaboration and Creativity isn’t what it could be.  The imperative of the modern School Leader just became the invention of new metrics in these areas – not simply the reliance on data that’s easy to gather.

You see, immersion in data isn’t about discovery of something unexpected and then reacting.  It’s about inquiry, connection to purpose, focused intent and evaluation.  Our contention to you is that data should be used in schools in much the same way that a drunk uses a lamppost – for support and not for illumination.

Key actions for School Leaders to develop are truly data aware school would then include:

  • The inclusion of all stakeholders in dialogue about data – defining, critiquing and exploring.
  • Inventing data sources and metrics that relate to your purpose, context and school improvement timeline.
  • Meaningful discussions about how data builds better teacher practice and reflection.


Don’t have time to absorb the whole article today?  Here’s the big points …

1) Is your school data informed or driven?

2) You are an expert in your field – speak up.

3) Define your purpose.

4) Learning, collaboration & creativity.

5) Invent new metrics to measure what counts.

AITSL STANDARDS FOR PRINCIPALS … and you addressed them by reading!

The Big One

Professional Practice 3 Leading improvement, innovation & change.

But also …

PP1 – Leading teaching & learning.

LR2 – Knowledge & understanding.

PP4 – Leading the management of the school.