School of Education news


Education Research Seminar – Thurs 3rd November 2016

How can we think about data in schools? Atmospheres of progress and forging futures in a data-based school.

Dr Matt Finn, University of Exeter
Thurs 3rd November 2016, Falmer campus

This was a well-attended seminar that attracted interest from a wide range of people – including local head teachers, Teaching School Alliance colleagues, researchers and lecturers from the School of Education and from the University of Sussex.

Below is a link to Matt’s presentation:

His powerpoint slides are also here as a pdf:


This is a handout he gave out, raising key issues about data and ‘care work’ in schools.


Over the last decade, schools in England have been under increasing pressure to produce and use data about pupil performance, attendance and attitudes to different aspects of school life as a means of securing improvement and fostering ‘intelligent accountability’. On the basis of this data young people become subject to a variety of moves made to try to realise particular futures for them and the school of which they are part.

In this seminar Matt offered two avenues for thinking about what data are doing in schools. First, he argued that changes in the production and use of data in schools have made the creation and maintenance of ‘atmospheres of progress’ a key technique of governance in contemporary schools in England. He explored how actors in the school seek to produce, through data, the felt sense of the school as a place of continuous improvement; and the fragility – indeed the ambiguity – of these senses where they appear to be partially achieved. Second, he argued that teachers’ and pupils’ futures become bound together as they become responsible for securing each other’s futures through the co-production of learning data. There’s a ‘shifting grammar of agency’ where the language they use to describe this exposes the indeterminacy of who or what is held to act. In these contexts he considered how young people and teachers are producing their sense of selves and imagining possible futures with, alongside and against such data. He concluded by thinking from the school, and with its members, about what might constitute an ethic of care in the context of data.



Matt is a lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Exeter. He explores the contemporary conditions of education through various methods including participatory action research (PAR). He is interested in childhood and young people’s lives and has researched how the ‘data revolution’ changes the way people think about themselves and are governed in educational settings.

If you use these resources, please let us know how and why: / @MattMattFinn /

You might also be interested in an earlier seminar by Prof Jenny Ozga on Ofsted and the governing of education in England, which referred to the role of data. Click on this link to access information and the recording:

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