I’ve driven readership through Twitter, primarily, although a surprising number of people have come from other sources, such as School Governor forums. Twitter has been very useful in broadening my reach, and I’ve had useful discussions with lots of people I had previously only read or admired from afar. Lots has been said for the democratising effect of the social network, and I can only say that I wish that I had interacted more before I started my blog.
The piece of my writing which has had the most readers is RAISEonline is contemptible RUBBISH, which I wrote in March. A complicated piece, with equations, graphs and other surprisingly offputting aspects, it’s also quite long at just over 5000 words. It also had the most comments, although I realised early on that, whilst people might read blogs, feedback was much more rare. The RAISE article contains a great deal of my core concerns about the use of data, and is a perfect place to start if you haven’t read much of my writing.
In describing RAISEonline as RUBBISHonline, and using a contentious headline, I knew I’d get some people’s backs up. Which I have, undoubtedly. But I’ve also had feedback from people who both agree and disagree with my ideas, and the debates have been really, really useful. I used quite a few contentious headlines to get attention in my early posts; whilst I stand by what I have written, I’ve been somewhat surprised by some people criticising my ‘lack of balance’.
That ‘lack of balance’ is no accident, because I still think that the way in which ‘data’ has been distorted by various vested interests has had a massively negative impact on education. Having started by collecting indicators of pupil performance, we have moved at astonishing speed to a point where those indicators are now ‘measures’ which can be subjected to numerical analysis. This makes the assumption that education can be ‘measured’ in a way which is consistent, fair and unbiased. This seems inherently ridiculous to my mind, and I can’t apologise for not offering balance – others push education data as a ‘measure’ and if anything, my writing provides a balance in itself.
I have provided detailed criticism of what I have referred to as the ‘Data Driven Disaster’ perpetuated by, in particular, RM Plc. Various other companies clearly make a living off the back of RM’s work, and much of the criticism I have had has come from those who evidently accept the way in which RM have chosen to analyse education data. If my blog has made readers aware of the skewed view of data which RM has developed through its RAISEonline, FFTlive and FFT Governor Dashboard work, it has served its purpose.
To summarise, I strongly dispute the view that education data as used by RM measures any kind of ‘value’ added by a teacher or a school. I think that the statistics which are used by RM are used incorrectly, and that the data on which the statistics are based is fundamentally flawed and unreliable.
As well as criticising RM’s use of data, I have taken aim at OFSTED. I am not alone in this, and many, many people have exposed the serious flaws in what the government’s education watchdog does. From reports which are driven by data – 99% of reports give schools the same Overall Grade judgement as they do for Quality of Teaching, both of which appear to be based on the Achievement of Pupils grade – to ongoing criticism of lesson observation by OFSTED and its distorting impact on what school leadership team impose on the teaching profession, OFSTED is clearly in crisis.
When its own titular head seems to have no control of his troops (and I use that word deliberately), the simple fact is that in its 22 year existence, OFSTED has made a mess of all of the aspects of education which can’t be summarised on a spreadsheet. Others have inspired me to take time to review what OFSTED says about schools, and I have exposed the data driven nonsense which is driving many teachers from the classroom and the profession.
I have tried to be positive too. I laid out my core view of education early on, and gave enough background for readers to get a sense of where I'm coming from. I’ve suggested that education be removed from the hands of whimsical amateurs, and I’ve given examples of ways in which data can inform teaching rather than be used to beat or praise a school based on false assumptions. I’ve discussed teaching character, and looked at myths about commercial schools. I’ve also revealed the origins of a pervasive phrase used to criticise schools and teachers. I even attended a conference and said hello to some fellow bloggers.
So what is next?
I’m planning to make a few changes to the way I do things. Firstly, I’ve used the somewhat unwieldy twitter name @IcingOnCakeBlog. I’m going to change this to my pseudonym, Jack Marwood, as I think that I’d rather talk to people via twitter using my (un)real name.
Secondly, I’ve written a weekly article for the past four months. This has been useful to set out my stall and to attract a wide readership. Now that I have established my position and credentials, I’d like to start interacting more with other people’s writing online. The time required to research and write my articles, while teaching full time and maintaining a life outside of education, has meant that I simply have not been able to provide the kind of feedback I’d like to receive myself. I’m planning to post an article every two weeks from now on, which should give me more time to interact with other writers.
Thirdly, I’m still developing some ideas which will turn my obvious passion for education into something which pays for itself. I’m open to any offers to write or contribute to the education debate, especially around data and primary school education.
Finally, a big thank you
It's been a bit of an adventure, launching myself into a world outside of school. Many people have made me feel welcome, and I really appreciate all of the support I've had from both those I knew of before (Tom Bennett, David Didau in particular) and those whom I have got to know (Martin Robinson, Nancy Gedge, Ed Cadwallader, Richard Adams and others). For those who haven't taken the leap into blogging and twittering, I can't recommend it highly enough. Come on it. The water's lovely.