The Sheffield Telegraph’s Secret School: Teachers deserve thanks too for crunching attainment numbers

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In a Sheffield secondary school this week, I saw a Year 11 teacher sitting over a laptop, thinking long and hard over the data they were about to enter. Entering data is pretty much a weekly activity for teachers at many schools. Every week brings a data entry for a different year group, and by the time they’ve entered data for all the years it’s time to go through them all once again.

Whether they’re in Year 7 or Year 13, all Sheffield’s secondary school students have numbers allocated to their name on a regular basis to monitor their attainment and effort. These are fed back to parents and pored over day in, day out by data-loving, statistical obsessives, of which each modern secondary has at least one.

The teacher in question was thinking about the final GCSE grades their students would get and had to predict them now – some six months before they put pen to paper in the exam.

Data allows teachers – and their scrutinising line managers – to keep an eye on kids who may be falling short of their target grade. It also allows senior leaders to keep an eye on how accurately data is being entered, and whether the predictions being made are accurate.

Teachers, then, tend to be very careful about the Year 11 data being entered. The most important data, as far as the government is concerned, is about results. Sheffield has a lot to celebrate this year when it comes to results. Across all Key Stages, Sheffield schools performed remarkably well in the last academic year. Our local authority deprivation ranking is 104, so any ranking we get which is higher than this means we are outperforming more affluent areas. The aim is a ranking in the top 100, so let’s look at how we did.

In Foundation Stage, the number of children making a good level of development meant the city has a national ranking of 93. Good start.

Let’s look at Key Stage 1. Here, maths was a concern and we were ranked 116th, but reading was good enough to give a national ranking of 93 while an outstanding year writing put us at 79th in the rankings. At Key Stage 2, the combined ranking for reading, writing and maths put Sheffield 92nd. Again, this is a great result and a big improvement on last year’s ranking of 116. The best results were reserved for GCSEs, though. The new measurement at GCSE is ‘Progress 8’ which looks at how much progress has been made by students in key subjects.

Sheffield has a ranking of 59 out of 151 Local Authorities. But let’s not stop there, let’s compare us with other cities. We are a city, after all, and to compare our inner city areas with the leafy areas of Berkshire would be ludicrous, of course. So Sheffield is also compared with other ‘core cities’.

There are eight core cities in total, including Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Bristol. Sheffield was ranked top of the group when it came to Progress 8 and second when looking at attainment.

I wonder if our Year 11 teacher entering data this week had been congratulated on behalf of the city, or even on behalf of the school?

That same teacher, still number crunching the Year 11 data, has achieved some incredible results. For each of a 13-year teaching career, their GCSE results have been among the best in the school. One year they even received a congratulatory letter from the exam board to say their students were in the top five per cent in the country.

And yet this teacher will also point to a little bit of data they have collected all on their own. In only two of those 13 years as a teacher have they had any form of congratulations from senior leadership in the school.

Excellence has been taken for granted and you only merited a visit from the headteacher if your results were poor and something needed doing about you.

This is a sad state of affairs, especially given Sheffield’s results this year, but it’s common for schools to treat praise as something sacred that’s only to be handed out to students.

It’s time this appalling culture changed and we started recognising the excellent work that is being done in schools across this great city – and give teachers the credit they deserve by getting off their backs and letting them get on with being inspirational role models.

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