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?


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

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