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Juking The Stats

*shuffles chair*

*lifts tea* *drinks*

Awkward this, posting your first entry on a blog. The main problem I found was reconciling the fact that I like to think of myself as being a rather humble person, with the thought that actually I want people to hear what I have to say, and that it might be important.

Being British is hard.

Why the fuck would you read this, then?
This year I gave up being a maths teacher in an Academy loosely modeled on Stalag 17 because it was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever done, and I voluntarily support Sheffield Wednesday. I genuinely do not think that I can teach, despite what colleagues told me, for the simple fact that it felt like failing every day for 3 years through training, and my 18 months as an independent teacher.
However I do agree with them that I had the ingredients you’d need to be a teacher; I cared about my subject. I made jokes about my subject. I tried to get other teachers involved in my subject. I cared about the kids, I made jokes with the kids. I tried to get the kids involved in after school stuff.

Unfortunately, weighing down on all this was the overwhelming neccessity to produce good stats. There were lesson observation targets to meet. Student learning targets to meet. Assessment criteria to redraw in order to make the learning meet the targets. Professional Development targets to draw up and meet in an easily quantifiable manner. Levelling children, and not work.

The whole process was to take a group of postgraduate trained professionals and drain all of their capacity to think creatively about a job they cared about once upon a time. As much as you could blame the regime of the school for that, they were only responding to pressure exerted downwards in order to juke the stats to make the higher ups happy. The second biggest catchphrase in our department was;

“The numbers go up, everyone’s happy.”

Unfortunately the biggest catchphrase was the indicator of just how deskilled, disempowered and drained everyone had become;

“It is what it is”

No. It is what it has been made. No management strategy was delivered from Mount Sinai onto the people of the world to live by. This morale destroying situation, which I unfortunately think is all too common, was created by a stats obsessed culture.

The problem I take from both The Wire and my time in teaching, is that it isn’t juking the stats that leads to the problem. It is in relying only stats instead of human judgement in order to try and find the value of everything.

My final word goes to one of the union reps before a march we started 8 months ago now;

“This whole problem comes from the fact that everything is measured and targeted and nothing is understood. Because Microsoft fucking Excel exists and we must bow down in front of it”

 McNutty taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Wire_Jimmy_McNulty.jpg

No copyright infringement intended, of course, as I invoke my ancestral rights to Fair Use



3 thoughts on “Juking The Stats

  1. “This whole problem comes from the fact that everything is measured and targeted and nothing is understood. Because Microsoft fucking Excel exists and we must bow down in front of it”

    This gets to the heart of the issue I think. Stats and data can be fantastically useful tools for school improvement. But only if you understand them. School management as a whole are not statisticians. They do not therefore understand the data. Numbers scare (some) people let alone transition matrices or value added tables. Therefore data is often used badly as a stick to beat students and staff as management don’t really know any better.

    I’m (semi-seriously) thinking of setting up in business and selling my knowledge of post-16 data out to the highest bidder. If you can’t beat ’em join ’em and all that.

    My use of data has a human face. Lies, damn lies, and statistics do not…


    Posted by John D | July 22, 2014, 7:53 pm
    • Thanks for the comment John.
      Data by itself isn’t the problem. The problem is no-one in any kind of power having the balls to commit to making anything better long term, rather than just making the numbers go up (or down, dependent on personal preference).


      Posted by benbebbington | July 22, 2014, 8:38 pm
      • Cheers Ben. Just remembering that behind the data are people would be a start. I’m convinced that’s possible: not sure about school management more generally.


        Posted by john d | July 22, 2014, 8:53 pm

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