Too much data; too many meetings: stop talking and do something.

Most data systems.  Many EHCPs 

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking about the huge imbalance between the time and effort we spend identifying issues relative to the time and effort we spend doing something to address them.  There are two main areas where this imbalance comes into play:  assessment data and ‘referrals’.

Here’s a thought experiment (One I’ve used before):  Your entire data system at school is wiped out and your mark book is accidentally burned in a fire.  How upset are you?

The fact is that most teachers could zip through their class list in a few minutes re-creating an assessment profile and cause-for-concern list.  We know what the issues are. Usually, when the data system spews out the RED flags of concern, it is absolutely no surprise.  Occasionally, of course, something unexpected pops up but mainly, we already know because of the richness of our interactions with our students.

The challenge we face is to answer ‘Now What?’.  What are we going to do about it?  The menu of options is usually pretty obvious, no-nonsense stuff.  There are things we can do to address motivation, attitudes to learning, organisation, parental involvement.  There are things we can do to support access to the resources, to reinforce key learning points, to enforce work completion and improvement, to increase the level of challenge or provide more targeted practice in areas of difficulty.

How many data drops do you need to support the identification process? Deciding what to do for which student is where we need to spend our time.  And it doesn’t matter to John or Abdi if they are a white working class boy or a Somali EAL student on Pupil Premium. They are just John and Abdi; students who need some extra help. Let’s just get on with it.

‘Referral’ can often be another merry-go-round that I find can turn into a vortex of inaction.  Concerns about a child can swirl around, feed into a meeting with way too many staff around a table, lead to a referral to an Educational Psychologist or CAMHS practitioner  – or some other agency – and, several weeks later, a six page report appears with the big answer:  James needs to work in small groups, sit at the front and be given work in small chunks. No kidding?!   Again, the time and energy at the front end can dwarf the final product – the actions that actually support the child.  And, in waiting for the voice of authority, the big diagnosis, we’ve been paralysed into inaction, wasting precious time.

Of course, some students have very specific needs that need to be identified.  A good ECHP is helpful; it’s not merely a bureaucratic exercise.  I am not suggesting that clinical and ed. psych work are not important.  I am saying that, far too often, the whole referral process and report generation is far, far too long-winded and unwieldy relative to the actions that follow.  And there are too many people who think that it is for other people to actually do the doing; at some point, we need actions that directly support a child to learn and it’s a common mistake to confuse talking about actions with the actions themselves.

We need to re-think this whole culture and cut to the chase more often.  Let’s go lean on data, lean on meetings and use our common sense to generate a menu of practical interventions that are meaningful and deliverable.  Let’s keep it simple and resolve to see through the interventions we’ve planned to the point we’re actually making an impact.









  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. Somewhere down the line, referral procedures and accountability have left us shy of getting on with the actions that our guts and hearts know make sense.

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  2. Agree with lots. Enjoyed the thinking here.

    At the other end of the scale is having so many actions/interventions that they take up more time than teaching. I worked in a school where so many staff, including SLT, had to intervene and mentor individuals and groups in year 11 that it was like a parallel timetable. With so many actions being carried out there was no way of working out which had produced any impact on outcomes. All this was to get students across the line. I am not convinced that any of it produced any real learning.
    How about we teach students from year 7 with as much effort as we put in to year 11, but with zero interventions in year 11. The concept being that we are teaching to have a permanent effect on the student, not cramming them for a 10 second sprint.
    I know this will not happen because the system is now “dog eat dog”. I wish a group like the Heads’ Round Table could give thought to some radical changes that have real impact and schemes like Pixl Club were seen as something professional educators did not need to entertain. I don’t see groups like, DfE or ASCL promoting my vision of a new dawn. Most Academy CEOs are not going to risk their juicy salaries on change that takes time. Perhaps no-one else sees things my way.

    Thanks for your good work prodding the system.

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  3. This is so timely Tom . I have been reflecting a lot on data recently and have completely rethought my ideas . It’s all about what goes on in the classroom and progress is the watchword . Far too much data is retrospective and by the time we have analysed it the students and the teacher have moved on !

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  4. I have to agree with you on much of this. As a special education teacher I sometimes feel like I do a whole of data collecting and sitting in meetings and not enough helping my students. It’s frustrating beyond belief when you know a student needs help but you don’t have the hard data to prove it yet. When will it stop being about all the data and meetings and start being about just helping the students?


  5. I agree too. Speaking as a MAT headteacher, part of the problem is that increasingly those that judge are so far from the human scale interactions in schools that they have ceased to value or trust the professional instincts that those of us who work in schools hold. The only trust is in data and written reports which take valuable time up to prove what is already known.
    And, speaking as a physicist, I am also well aware that social science data is so multi-variable as to be able to support any story you want to tell.

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  6. […] As a new teacher, I dreaded meetings.  I was one of those who, introverted generally, self-censored and kept my opinions to myself.  What would I have to contribute to meetings? I had only just qualified and was still trying to get my head around lesson planning, marking and the influx of observers.  So I kept my ideas to myself and generally trusted the managers to get on with their jobs.  These meetings came in two forms: the Form Order meeting (where we reviewed a kind of measure of effort and attainment done six times a year) and the department meeting where we met a few times a term to do some moderation and get some department business done especially around examination time when we needed to sort out the coursework folders.  These were pretty functional affairs with a succinct agenda and no real time for discussing strategy or anything that might spark a debate.  The Form Order meeting is largely out of favour now and have been called by one Headteacher friend of mine “character assassination” meetings.  You might recognise these kind of meetings and Tom Sherrington discusses the problem with them here. […]


  7. Thanks Tom. I blame the legalistic era we live in where every decision needs evidence to back it. I call this evidence-based which is a cop out. We need it to be evidence-informed so allowing room for professional judgement backed by the right ethical standards.

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