Leading schools in a data rich world

by Lorna Earl and Stephen Katz


Data about schools can capture the media’s attention and work as extrinsic motivation for schools to attend to situations that might otherwise have not been acted on.

Data, particularly if made public, can have unintended consequences; for example, when high-stakes testing data is revealed without being given a helpful context. Many teachers and school leaders are therefore often apprehensive about data and its use.

Earl and Katz make the important point that just having data offers very little to schools. The value of data comes from being able to discern its quality, to organise it, and to think about what it means when used for making decisions about school improvement. It is important to use data for enquiry about your school rather than for ‘judging’ it. What the data says is only important if we can also understand why it is telling us what it is, and what we can do about it in terms of improving student outcomes.

The paper argues for school leaders to become skilled “creators, consumers and users of data for decisions and planning”. However, it is not a hands-on, how-to-do-this article.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions may guide you in your reading of this paper:

  • What range of different kinds of data does your school draw on? How much effort is being put in by your school to assessing the quality of data available to it?
  • How could you begin to use data collection and interpretation as part of your professional learning programme with staff, students, and the wider community?
  • What are the challenges and likely benefits of collecting and using narrative data about your school’s learning environment?

Further reading

Bernhardt, V. (2003). No schools left behind. Educational Leadership, 60(5), 26–30.

Muijs, D., & Reynolds, D. (2005). Effective teaching: evidence and practice. London: Sage.


Earl, L., and Katz, S. (2003). Leading schools in a data rich world. Aporia Consulting Ltd. OISE/ UT.

Tags: Assessment and data

Tell a colleague | Back to top

Related sabbatical reports

  • Alan Harrison, Hillview Christian School

    Careers interviews; school transition at year 11; school visits; common characteristics of outstanding teachers. (PDF 410kB)

  • Mike Tilyard, Tairua Primary School

    Assessment in literacy: a comparative report. (PDF 96kB)

  • Alison J Rosanowski, Darfield High School

    This sabbatical study programme encompassed two strands: the use of Formative Assessment or Assessment for Learning to improve student learning outcomes, and the use of the Value-added programme, especially MidYis and Yellis, from the Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre (CEM Centre) of the Universities of Durham and Canterbury, to raise student achievement. (PDF 614kB)