Data targets – should they be published?

A thought provoking piece – interested to hear your views on this!

This much I know about…not publishing data targets to students and parents

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about not publishing data targets to students and parents.

Matrix Data

One of the biggest differences between a students’ experience in school now compared to when I was at school in the 1970s is being told, as a student, your data targets. I had no idea what academic progress I was making when I was at school, I just knew I was trying hard and that I was doing fine.

When I took O levels I had no sense of which questions in the mathematics examination, for instance, were C grade or B grade or A grade. I just knew some were easy and some were harder, especially the ones near the end of the paper. The point is, I had no concept of an attainment ceiling, nor did I feel pressured to hit an aspirational target. I just wanted to do my best, whatever that might be.

The student data paradox means that academic targets are simultaneously dampening expectations for some students and exerting unnecessary pressure on others.

Peter Bratton was my head teacher when I worked at Hove Park School and he gave me Sir Michael Barber’s The Learning Game to read.[2] The passage which resonates with me as strongly now as it did then pertains to students’ so-called potential and that ‘somehow teachers know what this is’:

‘This seems to deny one of the central characteristics of humanity, which is that people often surprise you. They turn out to have qualities, talents and skills that no one, not even they themselves, believed they had…When I hear the phrase “full potential” in relation to a child, I shudder at the arrogance it implies.’[3]

How on earth do we know our own limits? We will all, at one time or another in our lives, find ourselves doing something remarkable beyond our own imagined capabilities.

Publishing targets or minimum expected grades for individual students can have, in my experience, two dangerous consequences. Too many students reach their targets and stop trying, claiming that ‘a grade B will do. I don’t need better than that’; others get stressed by aiming for an aspirational target they perceive to be beyond their reach and consequently give up. The latter is particularly damaging, in that under confident students with high target grades will often try less hard so that if they fail, they can claim that they knew they were going to fail because they did not try.

When my eldest was studying for his A levels there was a moment when he was going to give up trying. He hates to fail, and failing when you have given all you have to give is doubly humiliating. I told him that trying your hardest is the only courageous, honest approach to take to anything in life. My words must have slowly permeated his brain’s cortex’s frontal lobe, because within a day he was back in the library, studying hard. Phew…

I have always had severe doubts about target setting and its glass ceiling effect on students. Tom Bennett writes some great stuff, but I reckon the best thing of his I have ever read is a post entitled This engine runs on hope: why schools need to defy the destiny of data.[4] I would cite it all, but this line stands out for me… You know what my expectation of my children is? An A. For everyone. That’s the target I set myself, and if I don’t get it, well, I try again next year. I don’t cry into my coffee, I just try again.[5]

He also asks this question, ‘What does it even mean to ‘aim for a C, or a B’?’ It’s a great question. Think about it. Imagine you are a ‘grade C’ student, a ‘grade C’ human being. How would you feel?

Decades ago, when I taught the very bottom set Year 10 English GCSE, I had to return some of their coursework. These were students with grade D targets. They were not lower than grade D because grade D was the lowest target school policy allowed. Natalie said, ‘What does a G stand for?’ Lisa-Louise replied, without missing a beat, ‘Great!’ Dean chirped up, ‘I’ve got an F. That must mean Fantastic!’ The dark humour of their defence-mechanism was heart-breaking.

I have written at length elsewhere about Carol Dweck’s Mindset,[6] the idea that you either view intelligence as fixed, or you think we can grow our intelligence, through a combination of know-how and industry. We’re weaving the principles of Growth Mindset into every aspect of our school life. At our annual Prize Giving I present the Headteacher’s Growth Mindset Trophy. One year I awarded the trophy to Katie. Her teachers were delighted and they were unqualified in their praise for her. Barbara Lunn said, ‘In Year 10 Katie started GCSE with a C target. She was persistent, asking what she could do next, was her work good enough, could she stay behind at lunchtime to finish off or do more…the result of her efforts? An A* at GCSE!’

Another teacher, Anja Miller, said, ‘Katie has shown what can be achieved by sheer hard work and a constantly positive attitude’. Jane Burns summed it up when she said, ‘What impressed me about Katie, and what I remember when I think about her, is her lovely smile. It just says, “It might be hard, but I am not beaten and I am not giving up!”’

If Katie had believed the C grade target we set her for the end of Key Stage 4 was all she was capable of, she probably wouldn’t have taken A levels and gained two A* and two A grades. She wouldn’t have studied at the University of Leeds.

What irks me is that Katie secured her dazzling A level grades and her Russell Group university place in spite of her C grade GCSE target, a hopelessly inaccurate target which, but for Katie’s indomitable spirit, could easily have damaged her chances of examination success.

Once you start to think hard about what Dweck says you begin to question everything about what you do as a school leader. If Dweck is right – and in my personal experience I think she is – then setting students grades as targets is deeply flawed. The Subject Leaders of our two most successful A levels both fessed up to me, during a review of their department’s examination results, that they don’t look at students’ targets, they don’t consciously differentiate, they just teach to A* standard all of the time to all of the students.

On reflection, I cannot believe we have published estimated grades to students and parents for so many years. I wish we’d stopped long ago, or, like Dame Alison Peacock, never begun the dangerous practice. At the Wroxham School they focus on ‘learning (rather than simply attainment), nourished by a deep belief in the learning capacity of everybody’. [7] At the Wroxham School they have never used National Curriculum levels.

The idea that a school policy should put a cap on students’ outcomes seems so ridiculous; there are enough things which inhibit their progress, for goodness’ sake!

No, we have been liberated at Huntington by our decision not to inform students and parents of their target grades.

Our decision does not mean we will not track their progress using assessment data; rather we will use assessment data to enhance our teaching.

Those of us who learn at Huntington School do so in a culture of the possible. We do not believe that anyone can achieve anything; rather, we believe that with dedication, industry and know-how individuals can make progress beyond what anyone, including themselves, could have imagined.

And that should please students, parents and, of course, Sir Michael Barber.


As an EEF-IEE Research School we wouldn’t have made the decision to stop publishing data targets to students and parents without a paper justifying the decision…



[2] Sir Michael Barber, The Learning Game, (Phoenix; New edition, 25 Sept. 1997)

[3] Ibid, p. 253


[5] Ibid

[6] Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Robinson, 2012)

[7] Mandy Swann et al, Learning Without Limits, (Open University Press, 1 April 2012), p. 4

Research in 100 words

A great series of research posters from @ChrisMoyse summarising research in 100 words on each poster.

alternating-solved-and-unsolved / ask-questions / beliefs-about-intelligence / check-for-understanding /   cognitive-load /   daily-review  / feedback / know-facts / pair-words-with-graphics / practice / provide-models / retrieval-practice / scaffolds / small-steps / what-they-already-know



Doug Lemov -Michaela files part one.

Doug spent some time at the ‘famous’ Michaela school – they do some wonderful things that we can learn from… 10.14.16Reducing Teacher Workload By Re-Thinking Marking–The Michaela Files, Part 1

Image result for marking student papersLast week i visited London’s faintly notorious Michaela School. A few days ago I wrote an overview framing the visit in the ‘big picture’ sense.  Now I propose to begin sharing a series of posts–the Michaela Files–describing some of the useful things I learned there.

As I walked through London’s Michaela School I was struck suddenly by a strong intuition—call it fear maybe–that recalled my days as a teacher in a high performing urban school. I was in my late twenties then, and my colleagues and I were seeking, like Michaela, to engineer every moment for maximum student benefit.  God, we loved those kids.  And they needed every ounce of what they had and what we had to have a fighting chance. So we pushed them hard and worked long hours. We were going to do every single thing we could.  But the hours were often unsustainably long I can now see.

So when I glimpsed the artful intentionality of every moment in student’s lives, the impeccable designed and executed systems, I feared that this was also true of Michaela.  I knew this would challenge the long term sustainability of the school.  Those brilliant teachers would tire.  Many would leave. Organizational memory, the culture, the will to sustain it all would be diluted.  The school would regress to the mean.

But happily like many intuitions which we presume are accurate, mine appears to have been in large part unfounded. And this is very good news, not just for Michaela but for every school seeking long –term, sustainable excellence—because one reason teachers at Michaela told me they leave by five is that they do something brilliant, simple and replicable to reduce workload without eroding outcomes. And you can copy or adapt it tomorrow.

Ready for it?

Teachers at Michaela do not mark student essays and other writing.  They read the essays their students write in English and History and French and Religion and they grade them but the grade is all the written feedback students receive.

How could they?  you ask- perhaps thinking of the personal dialogue you establish with your students when, late at night or on Sunday morning, you fill the margins of their essays with individualized comments—“Nice, use of evidence, David, but you’ve left out an important piece of evidence from page 62.”  “I love this sentence Sarah.  You capture Hurston’s vision perfectly.”

This task, as Joe Kirby and Jo Facer described it to me is ‘maximum effort; minimum impact.’  It takes hours. It almost always happens at home for teachers, blurring the lines of the workday and making you feel like you are never done as you stare guiltily at those accusing stacks of essays and writing pieces.  Over time you perhaps assign less writing.  Or you grade them when you can and give that artful feedback weeks after students wrote the papers—and hardly remember writing them.  Or you toil away and just maybe work yourself towards unsustainability.  And maybe once or twice you’ve even wondered- do they read them with as much intentness as you put into the writing of them?  Do we know whether they read them at all in some cases?

“We seek the opposite,” Joe said, “Maximum impact at minimum effort.” So they re-worked marking.  And the solution is pretty logical.

When students at Michaela write essays, their teachers read them all and take notes to inform re-teaching the next day. Instead of marking each paper that needs a better topic sentence, they jot down themes and maybe example:  “better topic sentences” and “brilliant example of topic sentence from Gabi.” The next day show up in class and say: “Many of us are struggling with our topic sentences. So let’s look at how to write them better.” and then: “Let’s look at why Gabi’s was so good.” And then:  “Now go re-write your topic sentences.”   Or perhaps its content focused: “Many of us misunderstood what the results of the battle were.  Let’s review the events and then you can rewrite.”

And there it is. Time spend writing comments becomes time spent re-teaching.  And students then must be responsible for using and applying what they’ve learned. And the greatest amount of energy can be spent on what’s most important to the group. And then—without the disincentive to assign writing—students can write some more.

Honestly, it’s brilliant. And it actually draws on what many of us already do during class, when we circulate, observe work and then address common misunderstandings.  But it asks the question-is a focus on always individualizing feedback for every student always the best use of our time? Or even usually? Especially if it’s in writing?  When you consider alternative uses to a teacher’s time, the answer is probably no.

Take three hours spent writing comments, allocate 30 minutes to identifying trends and planning a short re-teach and then do other things, including some non-teaching things.  This is hugely important because workload has historically been an Achilles heel in the high performing urban schools movement.  To change the lives of students otherwise cut off from opportunity is an immense job and often presents a brutal choice. Do you reduce the hours for the adults—the adults you love and honor and who give deeply of themselves to help others—and know that the cost will be lesser outcomes for the students and families you also love and have dedicated you professional life to serving? Or do you push for maximum outcomes for kids and know that people you care about will sometimes—often—work too hard and suffer?

In the end the core social good—the expectation shifting inner-city school—will only be as expandable as we need it to be if we can unlock large scale efficiencies- ways to continue to get maximum value for kids at more sustainable cost for adults.  Insights into game changing efficiencies and synergies are rare.   But Michaela School is on to one.  And, as I pointed out in my first post, you can borrow it no matter what your school’s approach.

Marking – can we make it easier and less time consuming?

Another great post from Tom Sherrington – would love to know what you think on this?


At HGS we’ve been thinking hard about how to make sure teacher feedback has maximum impact and, recently, I’ve been revisiting some blog posts that continue to inform my thoughts on this important area: ‘Close the Gap’ Marking: a whole-school approach used at Saffron Walden High School, focusing all feedback on student response. Marking […]

via Rethinking marking and feedback. It’s all about the response. — headguruteacher