GUIDELINES FOR THE USE OF CEM FEEDBACK

Sometimes we find that a school has used its value-added data in publicity or recruitment materials, or a school will ask us if we are happy for them to publish their performance data in some form. CEM has always asked schools not to do this.

We believe there is an important distinction between information that is used for professional monitoring and its use for public accountability. In the former case, the school or teacher is likely to be seeking feedback on their performance in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. There is a 'problem-seeking' mentality, which can lead to problem-solving and genuine improvements in performance. That has been the philosophy of CEM monitoring systems since the earliest days.

On the other hand, when performance information becomes public (as in league tables), the emphasis turns to 'problem-hiding'. It is no longer desirable to expose problems, since this would have negative consequences, but becomes necessary to suppress or distort them in order to present the best public face. At this point the information itself is compromised and can no longer help schools to identify and address their weaknesses. This is the situation we want to avoid.

Our specific objections to the use of performance feedback in publicity materials are as follows:

THE PRESSURE OF PUBLICATION IS LIKELY TO DISTORT THE INFORMATION

Within all our systems it would be relatively easy to cheat, for example, by depressing students' baseline scores. If feedback is to be used in a supportive culture of problem-seeking, there should be no temptation to do this. But if the information is used to hold schools to account or is required to be made public, the pressure could become too great.

IF ONE SCHOOL PUBLISHES INFORMATION, IT PUTS PRESSURE ON OTHERS

Otherwise they will feel that people might think they had something to hide, or that they are simply missing out on a good marketing opportunity. It is hard enough for schools to create a climate in which data are seen as supporting teachers rather than threatening them, even without this pressure.

SOME OF THE INFORMATION THAT MIGHT BE REVEALED IS QUITE SENSITIVE

Value-added could be interpreted as a measure of teaching quality, and for small departments this could reflect on a single teacher's performance. This impinges on the field of HR management and should not be done in public.

IT IS HARD TO CONVEY NECESSARY CAUTIONS AND CAVEATS

Publicity material is inevitably somewhat sweeping and simplistic. On the other hand, value-added data is often problematic and complex. Feedback should be seen as a starting point for investigation, subject to complex influences, requiring local knowledge and judgement to interpret, not a simple index of the quality of a school or department. There is a real danger that even honestly presented data may be misunderstood or wrongly interpreted.

CHERRY-PICKING POSITIVE RESULTS UNDERMINES CREDIBILITY IN THE SYSTEM

No school would choose to present negative value-added results in publicity material, so what appears can only be a selection of the truth. Of course, it is tempting on receiving positive value-added feedback to want to publicise it. The problem is that next year's results may not be so positive, even if nothing substantial really changed. Value-added will vary from year to year and from subject to subject; most schools would have something positive they could report if they searched hard enough. But this is not the whole truth and its presentation undermines credibility in the system.

PUBLICITY MATERIALS SEEM PARTICULARLY PRONE TO ERRORS

When we have seen examples of schools trying to use CEM data for publicity purposes, they often contain quite serious misunderstandings or distortions.

Of course, we recognise that many schools operate in competitive markets, that schools have a duty to communicate performance information to a variety of stakeholders and that, in practice, the distinction between professional monitoring and public accountability is not always clear cut. Inspectors, for example, may demand to see value-added data and this can put the same kinds of pressures on the data.

To clarify our position, we therefore offer the following specific advice:

  • Your disclosure of CEM data must comply with the Data Protection Act (1998)
  • CEM do not support the use of materials derived from CEM performance data that is intended for general marketing, publicity or advertising, such as school prospectuses or mailings to prospective parents.
  • The use of students' comments from our questionnaires for marketing, publicity or advertising would also come under this heading, as well as potentially compromising the assurances of confidentiality we have given those students.
  • It is perfectly acceptable for a school to state publicly that it uses CEM Systems and explain how this forms part of a process of quality assurance.
  • Presentation of CEM data in confidential reports to groups such as governors, authorised Local Authority personnel or (for non-maintained schools) authorised officers of the sovereign company or trust that owns the school is perfectly acceptable.
  • Where confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, for example in written reports for parents, it is safest to avoid including value-added data. In situations such as conversations with individual parents or presentations to groups we hope that schools will judge what is appropriate for the context, bearing in mind the principles listed above.
  • Under the Data Protection Act, students (or their parents, for children deemed by the Act as being below the age of minority) have a right to access their data. However, it does not give them the right to see data on anyone else, or the school as a whole.
  • Inspectors often expect, and sometimes have a legal right, to see value-added and other data. We accept that schools will share their data with inspectors and if the latter have a good appreciation of the data and understand that data support, but do not replace, judgement, this can be a very positive process, in line with our own philosophy of monitoring.
  • One exception we have made in the past to the principle that value-added data should not be made public is when a school comes under unfounded attack for some reason. For example, we have allowed schools designated by Ofsted as 'failing' to publicise their data. We ask that you alert CEM if you intend to publicise your data for this purpose.

SANCTION

Should a school disregard the above guidance and continually publish CEM data openly, CEM reserves the right to refuse to accept that school's registration onto CEM monitoring systems in the future.

For any further clarification of these points or discussion of specific issues, please contact CEM.

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