‘We’re at the dawn of a new obsession with data’

15th June 2018 at 00:00
EIS conference warns over fixation on figures, rising workloads and falling wellbeing. Henry Hepburn reports

What all-encompassing issue would you expect to dominate the annual gathering of Scotland’s biggest teaching union? Pay? Workload? Educational reform?

All were present and correct at the EIS AGM in Dundee, but there was also another, less obvious candidate: data, and the stress, workload and ethical concerns that are seen to be driven by it.

Nicola Fisher told delegates that, in her year as president, concerns about data had cropped up time and again on visits to teachers around the country, often in relation to new developments such as the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) and Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs).

Fisher said: “Flawed data, collected in dubious circumstances, has too often been used in the past as a stick with which to beat schools.


“This is the thin edge of the wedge, colleagues. We seem to be present at the dawn of a new obsession with data, driven partly by PEF. By a desperation to prove that PEF has worked. It’s an obsession which will blight both our primary and our secondary sectors.”

Fisher had heard of one local association where schools were “being asked to collate 45 different pieces of information” for children entitled to money from the PEF, adding: “That may be all very well if you have a few of those pupils, but if you have 200 of them, that’s 9,000 tiny little boxes to be filled in.”

'Unnecessary bureaucracy'

A Scottish government spokeswoman says: “While schools must have plans in place for evaluating the impact of the PEF, these should not be weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy. That is why we published our national operational guidance, which supports schools in the use of their funding and sets out that heads should incorporate details of their plans into existing planning and reporting processes.”

Meanwhile, in his AGM speech, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan repeatedly drew a connection between the health of teachers and the union’s campaign to get them all a 10 per cent pay rise. Universities were failing to attract enough student teachers, he said, because “graduates can earn more in less stressful jobs, with better career-progression opportunities”. He said that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had shown that “teacher wellbeing is a prerequisite for student wellbeing”.

An EIS survey of more than 1,000 members (see box, below left) suggests that workload is increasing – despite the Scottish government’s well publicised attempts to tackle it – and that a diminishing number of teachers would recommend their profession.

One teacher who responded said: “The workload has reached a point that it significantly impacts on my home life. I have less time with my family and feel more stressed. I am so tired at the end of the school day and then have more work to do at home. It is depressing.”

Another said: “The amount of paperwork is unbelievable. With so many new schemes and programmes being introduced, council-wide and school-specific, whether for health and wellbeing or maths or any other part of the curriculum, we are constantly changing how we teach and what we use to teach.”

A Scottish government spokesman says: “We recognise pressures on teachers and have undertaken a range of actions to ensure a reduction in teacher workload, acting to clarify and simplify the curriculum framework and to remove unnecessary bureaucracy. The education reforms being implemented by this government will also create new opportunities for teachers to develop their careers.”

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