Over the past three weeks, I have explored areas that include: mindfulness, and managing wellbeing during remote work; the need for back-channel communication with colleagues.
Teacher-assessed grades are reportedly putting too much pressure on pupils and schools (BBC, 2021), while a fifth of teachers plan to leave the profession within two years due to workload pressures and excessive accountability (Gaurdian, 2019) and eight out of 10 school leaders have suggested a fear of academic failure has lead to increased mental health issues in 11-year-olds around exam time (Gaurdian, 2017). Although there are numerous case studies on the positive impact of mindfulness on stress reduction, the practice doesn’t itself directly address the ‘systematic or structural causes of teaching stress’ but allows them to be ‘seen more clearly and be addressed with more vigour’ (Weare and Bethune, 2021). This would be a good example where systemically and structural causes may be overseen as root causes to staff stress levels when viewing data or conversely how staff stress levels may be used in a ‘refractive model’ of surveillance over another part (e.g. the leadership and management culture in a school) (Fontaine, 2016).
Ozga (2016) makes an interesting point of data usage to influence performance of authority in school inspections; the measures of Ofsted can impact policies that not only determine pedagogy but potentially place greater importance on grades at the expense of preparing students for the 21st century or even staff and student wellbeing. e.g all teachers adopting a single pedagogical approach and students continuing with paper-based system to demonstrate sequences of learning; this will inevitably hinder creativity and innovation, especially when educational organisations are now looking to transform to use EdTech. An Ofsted-year can set the tone of the school culture and process; the fact is, schools in England are measured against progress-8 scores (DfE, 2016); particularly for schools that are catering for pupils from less privileged backgrounds and hope to level the playing field through student and school performance, an excessive focus on quantification of learning to drive approaches of governance and policy can lead to better outcomes (Fontaine, 2016) but at the expense of student satisfaction or a more rounded education. For example, a school may decide not to run Additional Mathematics GCSE to stretch their gifted and talented students, but rather use the time to focus on securing grade-9s to increase the school’s performance; or certain students who may be asked to drop a GCSE and focus on English and Mathematics instead for the school to have better English-Maths alignment. The counter-argument would be it is high grades that secure entry into courses at college and university and hence serve as a passport to a better future. The competing demands on teachers and students, I feel, is still rooted in post-modern forms of industrial age models which are less about qualitative transformation and more about the efficiency of process and outcomes; hence a culture of accountability which is rooted in a bias towards quantification and therefore potentially gives rise to organisations adopting ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ where all appears well if the data suggest so (Fontaine, 2016). I would be interested to see how the measure of ‘behaviour and safety of pupils at the school’ by Ofsted would be determined online and what to what extent quantitative data veils the qualitative story e.g. MS Insights measures user activity but makes no differentiation between the quality of conversation or responses during the activity.
Prinsloo (2020) makes an interesting argument on data colonisation by organisations such as Microsoft and Google ‘in that venture as they track personal data outside that needed for learning analytics; the more practical concerns I have as an educator is the influence of such organisations who have business users as their primary audience in shaping education and the digital environment through design and policies which have had to be adapted for educational organisations. This includes areas from safeguarding, online teaching, pedagogy shaped by design and accountability or intervention based on data. Safeguarding issues include: students being able to engage with other students in private unmonitored chat/banter/bullying by using their online status; inviting friends as Guests to disturb and disrupt an online lesson with inappropriate words and comments (School ICT, 2021). There can also be staff concerns about policies that demand the recording of all lessons for ‘student revision’ but can also form a ‘refractive model’ by the Senior Leadership Team who use it to monitor staff performance or even parents causing teachers distress by recording lessons (TES, 2021). There is no intelligent way to capture the MS Teams usage across various schools which fall under the same Microsoft tenancy, which makes just-in-time CPD, policy and governance dependent on data submitted by the end-user.
Governance and policy are vital in shaping the digital culture and operations in an educational organisation and impact critical areas including teacher/student wellbeing, pedagogy, accountability, inspection etc. These however can be obscured when there is an over-emphasis or reliance on quantification to define the above, particularly when outcomes becomes associated with uptake, student numbers and funding. COVID and remote working has raised a number of concerns about managing wellbeing during the lockdown of both staff and students, as well as the design of digital timetables and online pedagogy. There is a need for staff (and students) to communicate outside the systems managed, monitored and defined by an organisation, giving both autonomy and privacy.
References and Notes
BBC, N. (2021) ‘Covid: Teacher-assessed grades creating too much pressure’, BBC News, 31 March. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-56580864 (Accessed: 5 April 2021).
correspondent, S. W. E. (2017) ‘More primary school children suffering stress from Sats, survey finds’, The Guardian, 30 April. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/may/01/sats-primary-school-children-suffering-stress-exam-time (Accessed: 5 April 2021).
DfE (2016) ‘How Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures are calculated’, p. 5.
Fontaine, C. (2016) ‘The Myth of Accountability: How Data (Mis)Use Is Reinforcing the Problems of Public Education’, SSRN Electronic Journal. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3126460.
Gaurdian, S. W. E. (2019) ‘Fifth of teachers plan to leave profession within two years’, The Guardian, 15 April. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/fifth-of-teachers-plan-to-leave-profession-within-two-years (Accessed: 5 April 2021).
Ozga, J. (2016) ‘Trust in numbers? Digital Education Governance and the inspection process’, European Educational Research Journal, 15(1), pp. 69–81. doi: 10.1177/1474904115616629.
School ICT (2021) Microsoft Teams – a safe way to learn and communicate. Available at: https://schoolsict.co.uk/support/news-support/microsoft-teams-a-safe-way-to-learn-and-communicate-2 (Accessed: 5 April 2021).
TES (2021) Union takes action over filming of online lessons, Tes. Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/union-takes-action-over-filming-online-lessons (Accessed: 5 April 2021).
Weare, K. and Bethune, A. (2021) Implementing Mindfulness in Schools: An Evidence-Based Guide. Edited by J. Bristow. The Mindfulness Initiative.