Dip a toe in the data stream

As part of our staff restructuring we have appointed someone who is not a teacher as data officer for the school. She is very clear about the administrative data that we want her to manage but we would like her to become involved with pupil progress data as well. She is keen to do this.

How should we go about it?

Many schools are seeing the value of replacing teachers in the areas of data, finance, personnel and pastoral management with other adults who are not qualified teachers. The important thing is not whether they are teachers but whether they possess the necessary skills to be effective in these roles. Teachers are trained to teach, not to be administrators. It looks as though you are going down this road, too, with your restructuring.

Some schools have also developed the range and expertise of their existing staff through in-house training so that they can assume other responsibilities. This route enables schools to keep their quality staff by developing their professional expertise and giving them the satisfaction of progressing within their own school.

If you have an efficient member of staff with the potential to develop their skills further, then you are well placed, provided you have the capacity and expertise to provide the training required in the following areas:

* Do you have people available to mentor and coach your officer in the following areas: value-added, comparative data, target setting data, subject level data, and individual pupil data?

* Do you have someone who could explain to your data officer the nature and purpose of data reports required for different audiences, both inside and outside your school?

* Does the data officer understand the school's ICT and administration support systems sufficiently well in order to incorporate these into the new dimensions of her role?

Data in schools, and about individual schools, has mushroomed. The complexity of information available to schools has also increased. An expert in this field is an invaluable addition to the school community.

However, the relationship of this person and their role to existing key players in your school is very important for the efficiency of the school.

Therefore, apart from having the potential for handling new types of data, he or she will also need to know how to work with people. Machines and numbers, although possessing the power to surprise humans now and then, are not as unpredictable as people. Does your data officer possess people-handling skills as well as data-handling skills?

If you extend the range of duties for this person in this way, are you reducing someone else's workload? If so, will both job descriptions need revising and what are the cost implications? Job regrading is expensive.

You may, of course, have already assessed these as part of your restructuring exercise.

The point to start from and to sell to governors and staff is what impact this post, and the extension of this person's duties, is going to have on school improvement.

There is now a wealth of research to support the view that schools improve their performance rapidly when they have a good person in charge of data who can set the right targets. The job of the data officer is to provide clear and correct data for all those who need it in your school.

This can be a most rewarding role for someone who has come through the administrative ranks as they see quickly the impact that their work can have on raising standards.

If you develop this person in this way, she will become a very good role model for other members of your support staff who may want to offer more to the school than they do at present. You are setting up some exciting career development possibilities by considering this improvement for your school.

Are all your staff ready for this?

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school in Bradford. This is his third headship. He has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and has mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email susan.young@tes.co.uk

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