Look at the data but do not miss the bigger picture

14th June 2013 at 01:00

Gerard Kelly is right: school performance data matter and should not be hidden ("Your number's up if you don't embrace the data", Editorial, 7 June) - but data alone are not enough.

A quote attributed to Einstein is also right: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." Of course parents want good academic standards but that is not all they expect from their child's school. Parents care about whether their child will be more employable when they leave than when they started; whether their teachers will inspire them to further study; and whether they will feel confident and safe in the school community. These things matter but they are hard to measure.

This is where England's schools inspectorate Ofsted should come in. Experienced and trusted inspectors should be able to make judgements about the overall quality of a school's provision, including but not confined to examination results. We trust theatre and restaurant critics to use their professional judgement to guide us, but such a "connoisseurship" model for school inspectors has been viewed with suspicion and Ofsted has become over-reliant on using objective data.

In a better world, parents, school governors and principals would be confident users of data to judge their schools, helped by the new high-level data "dashboards" from Ofsted and the non-profit UK company Fischer Family Trust. Complementing this, but not duplicating it, would be an inspectorate that made professional assessments of a school's worth drawing on what it observes in everything the school does, not just on the data.

Sir John Holman, University of York.

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