I am often asked about the graphs I post on social media that try to present a little of the vast wealth of education data in the public domain, especially the data that relates to English as an additional language and ethnic diversity. Some people ask where the data is from, others why I am interested in it or how I learnt to do things with it. Here is the first part of my story.
The Inner London Education Authority gave me my first job as a teacher in the 1980s. Unfortunately, Margaret Thatcher hated the Inner London Education Authority because, in her view, it was too left wing and spent far too much money. She abolished it. It was, therefore, slightly surprising to me on 1 April 1990, the day I was transferred to Hammersmith and Fulham’s new education department from the ILEA, to instantly receive a two grade promotion (a 15% salary hike). Even better, six months later my new boss’s boss dumped a brand new computer in our office. He loved his Apple Mac with its graphical user interface and didn’t want this weird Microsoft thing that you had to communicate with in a strange language of its own.
I was a teacher/advisor in the Languages Development Team, which had taken up the role of ILEA’s West London EAL team. We spent our time writing resources and teaching in partnership with colleagues in local schools with lots of EAL pupils. At least, that was the theory. It was a fun and satisfying job, but I had nagging doubts that we might not be working with the schools that most needed us and that the resources we created might not have the age and curriculum spread we wanted.
I got into the habit of stopping work at 4pm every day in order to play with my new toy, the strange Microsoft thing. I quickly became acquainted with the relational database and discovered that I could create a useful catalogue all of classroom resources we created that was searchable by school, subject, age of pupils and author. Then there were the data we collected on EAL pupils. Were they Stage 1 (very new to English), Stage 2, Stage 3 or Stage 4 (fluent in English)? What was their first language? It all went into my next database. We discovered that perhaps we were not always working in the schools with greatest level of need. We had to change. It was around this time that the government decided local authorities should bid for their EAL funding (Section 11). The data base provided everything required to demonstrate that we needed the money. All my playing around with graphs suddenly became useful and valued.
Flush with success, I was ready to apply for a new and better paid job. When Newham Council’s EAL team advertised for a Secondary EAL adviser focusing on data, I got very excited. I was a self-taught maverick, but I figured there were probably not too many other English/EAL teachers who knew their way round databases and spreadsheets. I applied and got the job. Even better, there was a Primary EAL adviser focusing on data. I had a friend to play with!