A wise friend once told me that you could not fatten a pig by weighing it. It would seem self-evident to most people, that measuring something does not change it, but not to a generation of managers who learned their trade in the 1990s and now occupy senior positions. Whether it is those with oversight of hospitals with a budgets of hundreds of millions, schools with hundreds of pupils, or Anglican dioceses, there has developed an obsession with expending huge sums of money on measuring and counting for the sake of doing so.
This week’s edition of the Times Educational Supplement gives ten reasons why statistics are not the answer to the problems that beset education. Read through the list and every reference to teachers might be replaced by reference to members of just about any other profession whose work is hindered by a managerial cult that has its faith in numbers, graphs and charts.
The TES says,”Here’s everything that’s wrong with the practice of setting data targets”:
The purpose is unclear: are they developmental? Or is the aim to ensure good results?
It doesn’t help teachers to grow professionally. What can you learn from a set of targets while waiting for a review meeting? Not much.
It doesn’t help the teacher to get the kids to achieve.
It can encourage cheating – teachers are a trustworthy bunch, but the threat of failing performance management can encourage grade inflation.
It assumes there are no other influencing factors on children’s achievement.
Nerves and unfamiliar formats don’t always lead to the best results – should they really be the basis of whether or not a teacher passes their performance management?
It doesn’t focus on what really makes the difference – it’s actions, not the targets that have an impact on learning outcomes.
It’s a short-sighted view of what is measurable.
SLT are absolved of responsibility. Leaders are paid to shoulder accountability – performance management should reflect this.
They drive teachers to leave the classroom for good.
Perhaps there have always been managers obsessed with statistics, perhaps they have only become a problem because the developments in information technology have created an unlimited capacity for collecting and comparing information. If the resources expended on a whole tier of managers whose job is the collection and collation of data were instead spent for the benefit of those that the work is meant to serve – pupils in schools, patients in hospitals, whoever – then there would be far more positive outcomes and far fewer professionals becoming increasingly disillusioned by being bombarded with pages of empty statistics.