Why data might be wickedly important

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The recent announcement by the Scottish Government of funds to support measures to further increase pupil attainment is notable for the emphasis it gives on the London Challenge (2003 to 2010) and the use of data. Whilst the announcement was keen to stress that things can be done differently in Scotland, there is undoubtedly a move toward adopting mechanisms of surveillance akin to that offered by ‘big data applied in small ways’; that is to say, a move to enhance attainment, reduce educational inequalities and have the measures in place to analyse both. This paper considers the use of data through the prisms of big and little data and wicked and tame problems and solutions (Rittel and Weber, 1973). Following the identification of ways in which data of both kinds can be used in schools and educational systems to shift thinking, the theory of wicked and tame problematising is deployed to analyse the ways in which such moves might be both problematic and useful. Using England as a case in point, the paper argues that the production of tame solutions to wicked problems has reduced the capacity of the system to engage with meaningful learning whilst the adoption of wicked thinking at the level of the school can reposition professional practice towards orientations that are about progression and learning. The paper concludes by debating three principles for action that education in Scotland should adopt: the first is system-wide; the second school-centred; and the third, teacher-focused.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2015
EventScottish Educational Research Association (SERA) Annual Conference - University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom
Duration: 18 Nov 201520 Nov 2015


ConferenceScottish Educational Research Association (SERA) Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • pupil attainment
  • data
  • Scotland


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