Raiders of the lost data

11th January 2013 at 00:00

My daughter has been sorting out my pantry. Except I'm not allowed to call it a pantry because a) it's not really a pantry, it's a shelved, stripped-pine wardrobe that my husband rescued from a skip and b) the word "pantry" offends her. She wants me to call it a cupboard. Apparently, my calling it a "pantry" is tantamount to dressing up in Victorian bloomers, pulling on a mob cap and squawking "Lawks a mercy" whenever my Bird's instant trifle refuses to set.

It's a pretension that needs to be squashed. When the high street retailer Past Times hit the rocks last year I should have twigged that our rose-tinted lexicon of nostalgia wouldn't be far behind. It probably won't be long before it's game over for cupcakes, too.

Anyway, I digress. What's important is that the food in my house is now efficiently organised. The plain flour no longer squats in a sticky puddle of soy sauce and the pepper pot has been airlifted from the spilt strawberry jam. Thanks to my daughter, everything is clean, catalogued and in its right place.

As a result, my culinary efficiency has improved exponentially. Now when I'm making Sunday dinner I don't have to shuffle the cereals around in a frantic game of Find the Gravy: the Bisto has been strategically resited three inches from the stock cubes and behind the bread sauce.

If only my school were as effectively organised. Take our data storage system, for example. It's a real mess. Its "cupboards" are bursting with folders that have been randomly shoved together over the years. It's like the television series The Hoarder Next Door, except that cowering beneath that landslide of obsolescent information, redundant data and photos from the 1996 ski trip is the bloke who runs the school. He's terrified to let anything go in case Ofsted decrees that to be "outstanding" you have to present your data from the past 300 years.

Obviously this makes life difficult for the end user. With the system so overloaded, it's ridiculously difficult to navigate. The hunt for Red October was a piece of piss compared to the hunt for end-of-year targets. It doesn't help that the school stores everything in an embedded Chinese box system of folders all helpfully named "Important KS3 data".

Retrieving the right information takes such skill, acumen and digital dexterity that, to commemorate its epic challenge, they're launching a new video game, Tomb Raider: The Search for KS3 Data. In this adventure, Lara Croft travels through the Peruvian jungle to Machu Picchu and overpowers a tribe of zombie Incan warriors, but fails to recover Sally Pritchard's end of Year 7 reading level because she can't recall the 33-digit, high-security password containing a mix of capital letters, numbers and cuneiform pictographs required to unlock the school's intranet.

We lose hundreds of hours every term because of our pointlessly complex information systems. The senior leadership team recognises this, but rather than systematically unscrewing jars, sniffing the contents and slinging out everything that makes them gag, they're spending thousands on new state-of-the-art software - which they are happily populating with the same rancid, bottom-of-the-jam-jar data they've scraped out of the old system. And to add insult to injury, they're hanging on to all the ancient catacombs of decomposing data "just in case".

Time to call in my daughter and hand her the bleach.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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