We know Amy is struggling. The question is what we do about it.

As part of my talk at ResearchEd in Birmingham last weekend, I explored the role of centralised data collection, the ever-present bell curve, the problems with morphing fine-grained ideas about standards and achievement in different subjects into common data formats  – all as a pre-amble to examining the limits of ‘can do’ statements.  (That’s a whole other post)

Rebecca Foster (@TLPMsF) tweeted this from my talk – and it got lots of hits:

In context, the spreadsheet in question is the one sitting on the central system; the one owned by the the Deputy Head in charge of assessment – or whoever.  I don’t suggest that a teacher’s own data from various assessments can’t help to track or pinpoint Amy’s areas of strength and weakness.   However, even here, it is more likely that a teacher’s engagement with Amy week to week will tell them more.

The main point I was making is that knowing Amy is struggling isn’t the key question. The key question is: what can you do about it.    I honestly feel that we generally spend way too much time focused on identification of students of concern relative to the time we spend devising effective curriculum remedies to problems with learning.  And I absolutely do not mean interventions after school – I mean the stuff you do in class or that you get students to do for themselves.

This is where the ‘feedback as actions’ idea comes in.  I’ve written that in a separate blog here.  #FiveWays of Giving Effective Feedback as Actions

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 17.41.17

This is just one part of it.  Another part is related to responsive teaching, curriculum design, the need to scaffold learning from where students are, not just cram them through a preset curriculum map regardless of their level of confidence and mastery.  It’s complex and requires thought.

I would argue that most of the time leaders spend scouring their centralised databases to identify trends and gaps or fuss around chasing up teachers who didn’t enter their data on time or correctly would be better spent getting to know what teachers can and should do in the detail of the learning – the curriculum – to support students who find things hard; to educate themselves about what happens in French, Art, Maths, History, Drama, Chemistry, English…. and engage in detailed conversations about curriculum-level interventions.   That’s where the action is and that’s what I was talking about at the time of Rebecca’s tweet.

See Also:

Towards an Assessment Paradigm Shift

Assessment, Standards and the Bell Curve



  1. I very much agree with this and I’m irritated that we hardly get time for a proper sit down chat.

    Most talk on twitter roughly follows the mantra: focus on what the students can and cannot do, the next step for you as a teacher, and the next step for the learner. I think this is uncontroversial and it’s doable in your head if, say, you teach less than a handful of students. Once the number of students make it an unethical demand to memorise a narrative for each student then some form of externalisation is necessary. Necessary from a workload perspective as well as accountability.

    It has become fashionable to dimiss the “spreadsheet” but it is useful for some things. Micro- and macro- level tracking in a spreadsheet are useful at particular stages for particular pupils.

    I’d argue that there really needs to be an acknowledgment of the pragmatics of assessing 1000+ students across a large amount of subjects. Leaving it to expert teachers and whooping in researchED when someone says “burn the sheet!” are not solutions for every school context.

    Let me know if this is explored in your book (I’ll buy it then) and/or let me know if you’d like a back and forth via blogs.

    All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi. Thanks for comment. In my book I talk about assessment in a whole chapter -exploring various concepts and emphasising value of low stakes testing and formative processes. I still see schools wasting time with spurious mastery statements or crazily heavy data drop regimes and so on – hence challenges to the spreadsheet. But nearly all teachers have a markbook and keep track of test scores. That’s all you need. Nice and raw. A chat would be good. Next time!


  2. Data is only a part of the picture we have of the learner and should be triangulated with current teacher knowledge and the pupil’s own perception of what they understand or do not understand and why. My own mantra is that data can/may enable me to ask the question but it will not give me the answer.

    However having the time to spend with that child to overcome the roadblocks and ensure depth of understanding is rarely possible with a curriculum that is in most subject areas too wide and develops a ‘It’s week 15 so we must move on to topic X now… what you wanted to go deeper, or didn’t understand that bit… sorry, you’ve got an exam coming up”.


  3. At least the tweet sparked the conversation around Amy’s struggle. And it encouraged this blog post, making people more aware of the need to do something, rather than just making it a statistic in a spreadsheet.

    Very sensible and useful the “feedback as actions” idea. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

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