'If we all just stand together, we can challenge our enslavement to data – and the workload that follows'

Data has become a big, tough mate in the playground – schools performing well know they can hide behind it. But in doing so they are colluding in a system which forces schools to focus on the figures rather than their students, writes one anonymous teacher


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What bothers me is why we put up with it?

Overworked, underpaid, stressed-out teachers up and down the land are lamenting their woes on a daily basis and leaving the profession in droves, while colleagues are shrugging their shoulders and coming out with one of three platitudes:

  1. "Stop being so negative, you're making me depressed! In fact, I'm so traumatised by all the doom-mongering that I'm not talking to you any more. It's the only option left to me."
  2. "Seriously, you only have a 70 per cent pass rate? You aren't a very good teacher then. Stop whining and plan some better lessons. My pass rate is 96 per cent. I think you just need to try harder."
  3. "Yeah I know, it's awful, isn't it? You poor sod, what can you do?"

And so, a few steadfast souls (number 3 – my favourite type of colleague) show some solidarity and compassion.

A small but dreadfully crass minority will even offer banal and frankly patronising lifestyle advice like "Hey, you, stressed teacher – have you tried breathing in and out slowly?", or "What works for me is making a list'" or the ultimate – "Go on, treat yourself to a soothing bubble bath and try and forget about it all".

Yes, of course, if I have a bubble bath all my concerns about one of the most challenging and stressful jobs will just melt smoothly away into a lavender-infused dream of happy bunnies, butterflies and... holy crap, all those reports are due in on Friday!

I have been wondering, during my sleepless nights, just why we allow ourselves to be victims of this continued organisational bullying.

Bullying is basically a conspiracy which requires someone to bully and someone else to acquiesce into accepting the role of the victim.

Are we really just the beleaguered donkeys and whipping boys of constant unrelenting government changes, transient diktats and poorly conceived, headline-grabbing dastardly schemes?

I, for one, refuse to play out this melodrama.

However, I've seen how we can unwittingly collude in our own downfall because I've watched it play out in my current school.

'Falling into the statistics trap'

I've seen a once-healthy cynicism about the power of data (when we had a judgement of "requires improvement") turn into a full-scale religious cult of "we're good now because the spreadsheet tells us so".

You know what the real problem is? It's when the data proves that your school is good or better. If it doesn't, you have to be cynical because the spreadsheet says starkly, quantitatively, you are rubbish.

The danger of falling headfirst into the statistics trap comes when the data is positive. That's when we become slaves to it and that's when it becomes an unhealthy box-ticking obsession.

It gets Ofsted off our backs and it keeps our reputation safe.

Data, which we all hate, becomes our big, tough mate in the playground whom we can hide behind when the bullies are in town.

Schools are now so driven by the fear that they are not really focused on the students, the curriculum, the behaviour, the values, the enrichment, the team spirit, the community work or the inclusion – they are simply looking at the bottom line Progress 8 figures.

So everyone who is at a school that is performing well holds a conspiracy of silence because they're protected, and those less than average.... well, that's just tough.

On a day-to-day basis we suffer unreasonable working hours, the loss of family time, the loss of evenings and weekends and disappointingly small salaries in order to help others.

However, our ability to help and support each other as professionals under strain definitely "requires improvement".

I think we seriously need to develop some solidarity and work together to overthrow this current lunacy.

Are we at risk – as we succumb to more and more pressure – of protecting our own interests without considering the bigger picture?

Are we actually unwittingly colluding with crazy new government ideas because individually we come out smelling of roses?

Are we allowing current policy to divide and conquer, to force us to compete on a playing field that just ain't level?

'Data enslavement'

If teachers now stand together and stand strong we can challenge this pervasive culture of data enslavement.

But it will take a firm and united stance to make this change happen.

On the last strike day in July only about four of our school's staff went out, though there were several dozen members of the striking union.

The reason? Oh, they all agreed with the strike, they just didn't want to lose the pay and wanted to catch up on some work they couldn't get done during the week.

How we shoot ourselves in the foot, agreeing that the situation is dire but refusing to stand together to make the point that we won't tolerate it.

So how about next time the rallying cry goes out to back a motion, to vote, to attend a meeting or to discuss concerns with SLT, we actually do so?

Furthermore, regardless of whether your current school is at risk and labelled as coasting or under-performing or whether you are one of the lucky few whose data says "Yeah man, we're doing great", why not stand alongside your not-so-fortunate colleagues?

Why not stand up for the integrity of the profession as a whole?

Why not make your voice heard before we lose more good people?

I, for one, plan to do so...after my soothing bubble bath, of course.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous

Tell us what keeps you awake at night. Email chloe.darracott-cankovic@tesglobal.com

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