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Data can be an invaluable tool in any teacher’s tool kit but it is really important to understand the power that it can have. If we consider data from a business perspective just for a moment, then there is what is known as the law of diminishing returns. This is the idea that there becomes a time when you are putting more and more effort in for less gain. When it comes to teaching then the same sort of rules apply, in that a teachers time is precious and so if time is to be given to the collection of data then the effort has to be worthwhile.

This means that there are two elements that should be considered if you want to make data collection work in schools. The first is the speed of that data collection and the second is the quality of data. Any scientist will tell you that data is all about context and to really understand a result you must also understand the variables which contributed towards it. The more complex a system is then the greater the number of variables and the range of interpretations (I believe the political term for this to be ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’).

There is though, a far less talked about aspect of data. One that is actually derived from theoretical physics. The Heisenberg principal refers to the precision of measurements but the principal behind it is far more widely felt. That is the idea that when we measure things we tend to change them. In the N.H.S. the use of specific targets simply shifts resources from one place to another. Crime statistics will do the same to a particular area.

In schools, we have exam results and two yearly inspections. Comparing two institutions that might have students from very different backgrounds though is an incredibly difficult task and exam results can lead to students being ‘taught to the test’ rather than giving them the transferable skills that they will need in the world of work.

Here at ESP Thinking we want to change the approach to data. With faster ways of collecting data and central databases to speed up its sharing and interrogation. With schemes of work that are also loaded onto databases then you also have the opportunity to apply a skills index to the activities and lessons. That means that as the data builds up you have a profile of strengths and weaknesses rather than simply a group of numbers. This then gives you the chance to differentiate effectively and use data for what it was meant for. That is the ability to get to the heart of a problem and help rather than as a stick to beat people over the head with.

We are currently launching our third mobile application but we need your help. ESP Planning will be available for testing in the next few days and we need testers to give us feedback so we can all be ready for the new term. This should save you valuable hours when you are up and running and whatever feedback you give it will put you into a prize draw where you will have the chance to win one of five 10inch Android tablets. For details please go to www.espthinking.co.uk