Data education Quotes


A friend once described me as an “Eater of Books” in the rate at which I consumed them…

Mitch Joel has the right of it when talking about Infovores,  which is another way I’d describe myself

The good

Personally, I have a hard time watching a dance competition on TV knowing full-well that iTunes U is stuffed to the digital rafters with audio and video Podcasts from some of the leading universities and given by the best professors… and that’s just one, small channel.

And the less good

The other side of the challenge is that there is simply not enough time to follow, consume and deeply ingest everything. You will never be able to read every e-newsletter, Blog post, tweet or listen/watch every Podcast or interesting YouTube video. As an Infovore, I’ve become quite comfortable with a diet that consists of both grazing and then taking the time to really enjoy a full and hearty meal (I tried to read one book every week). The mightiest of Infovore’s embrace the “mark all as read” button and take refuge in knowing that it’s not about consuming everything.


change education politics Science

Who benefits from the continuation of culture ?

From something I wrote a decade ago that still seem quite appropriate given the difficulty we have we with change in this country

who benefits from the continuation of culture. “The sanctity of property, the unflinching materialism of farmer calculations, the defense of professional status” were for decades the key values of the Irish State, values baptized by the Church (Lee, 1989 pp 159). These barren virtues were typical of the mercantile cultures that predated the intellectual enlightenment in Europe, and indicate unenlightened attitudes to knowledge and innovation as dangers that can upset the status quo. Innovation does upset the status quo, generating a new dynamic in a non-linear system leads to unpredictable results. Enabling this dynamic to proceed is the essence of economic growth and development. Powerful interest groups tend to block technologies to protect their rents (Mokyr, 2000, 2002); society’s structures, beliefs, and attitudes need to ensure that dynamic change is allowed to occur.

The essential Faustian bargain of dynamic living systems is the recognition that the birth of new things involves the death of old things.

Data education

Minister’s Reply to Primary Online Database Complaint

I received the following reply to my email complaint in relation to the Primary Online Database (POD). Link takes you to the full letter. The fundamental questions still remain unanswered.

My comments are interspaced with text from the Ministers  letter

On retention of data

The current retention policy for Primary Online Database (POD) data is for records to be maintained for the longer of either the period up to the pupil’s 30th Birthday or for a period of ten years since the student was last enrolled in a primary school

The Department’s retention policy is for audit and accounting purposes as pupil’s data is used in the allocation of teaching posts and funding to schools. The policy also serves to trace retention trends in the education system, is important for longitudinal research and policy formation, as well as being an important statistical indicator nationally and internationally.

Aggregate and not individual data is used for the majority of these purposes

This reads to me as “we’ll hold data until the kids are 30 even though we only need aggregate information for statistical purposes.”

There is a clear conflict  in need between aggregate information, information for allocation of resources while children are in school and holding detailed information until the children are 30 (or possibly longer given we don’t know what processes will be in place to remove the information in 18 years time).

On the racist nature of the cultural/ethnic categories

We are committed to reviewing the questions asked in POD. As part of this we have reviewed our question in POD on the collection of information on Ethnic or Cultural Background. We feel that the question used to collect data on ethnic or cultural background should be harmonised across all the education partners and other bodies who collect this type of information. As the CSO is the National Statistical Office, we are taking our lead from them. However, while the question asked in POD is not the exact same as the question asked in the Census of Population, it is based on the question.

I’d describe this as “some of the questions we asked were a bit racist so we’re changing the question and taking our lead from the CSO”.  It’s important to note that the CSO’s questions is problematic

In this regard the Statistics Section of the Department met with the CSO’s Census of Population Division to discuss concerns such as yours. They too accept that the variant of the ethnicity question on the 2016 census may fall short of what could be expected in today’s multi-racial Ireland. Unfortunately, given the no-change’ census approach being adopted for Census of Population 2016 it is not possible to change the CSO question at this stage. However the CSO has indicated that it is considering holding a seminar to examine how the data in this area can be improved from the point of view of maximising the number of write-in responses to increase the variety of ethnic description captured,

As pointed out on Twitter the Religion question on the Census is also problematic and the CSO don’t appear to be anxious to change it.  The Religion question in the POD is similarly problematic.

In terms of the complaints (in italics) I made to the Minister and the Department this is how I’d summarise it

1. Excessive retention of data. The retention of data until Children are 30 years of age is clearly excessive.

Not addressed.

2. Not using data for the purpose it was collected. I shared data with my school for very specific purposes. I have not consented to transferring this information to the Department. As it is not clear why some of this information is being collected at all the is a clear lack of purpose in collection of the data

Not addressed. The answer here seems to be we’ll decide what is appropriate even if we clearly don’t understand why we’re collecting the information.

3. Collection of unnecessary highly sensitive information. Some of the data being requested is highly sensitive (medical, psychological data) and there is no clear grounds for collecting this information

Not addressed at all 

4. Lack of appropriate security and safeguards around the data (including transmission of the data between schools and the department) It is not clear how or where the data is being retained and stored.  And the proposed mechanisms for transmission of data are hard to implement and easy to make mistakes around

Partly addressed in terms of storage of data but not addressed in terms of either access to information or in terms of transmission of data to schools and retention in schools.

5. Data is supposed to be accurate. There will be an inability to contain accurate information in light of free format text data and any information can be held in these fields.

Partially and poorly addressed. 

The “Notes” area is for schools’ use only, it will only be accessible to the school where the child is currently enrolled, and will not be transferable from one school to the next if the child is moving school. It is intended to keep administrative information which is required at school level only.

Its not clear why this data field is here and why if data for schools use only is being held in a central database and will be held until the child is 30.

6. The categorisation of the data on ethnic and cultural grounds is clearly racist and undermines the ability to store accurate information. The usage of the data for state purposes is also undermined by the racist classification scheme.

Partially addressed as discussed above.

7. The Department is acting beyond its power. The Department of Welfare hasn’t been informed or consented to the use of PPSN

Addressed in terms of the formal right to use the information through Dept of Social Welfare. Not addressed in terms of retention of the data.


Data education politics

Dept of Education and Primary Online Database

What is the Department of Education up to with the Primary Online Database.

Simon McGarr has a hypothesis

education Technology

Packaging up your children’s data (no date on a sale)

The Department of Education are requesting that data on all primary school children be captured into a Primary Online Database. The list of data they are asking for is comprehensive. It includes PPSN numbers.

This is what we know

A new database of primary school students will gather personal information, including PPS numbers, information on ethnic and cultural background and religion. Some details will be kept for up to 30 years (Irish Times)

List of data  includes:

• First and second names

• PPS number

• Mother’s maiden name

• Date of Birth and gender

• Full address

• Mother tongue

• Ethnicity

• Religion

• Irish language exemptions

• Enrolment date, teacher / class details

• Previous school / pre-primary education

• Learning support details

There is also a free text box for “Notes about a pupil”. The Departments reference manual on the Database states

Notes about a pupil may be entered into the ‘Notes’ tab. At present, notes entered here can be seen by Department of Education staff but this is to be changed so that only the school user may see the notes.

The Department is also claiming that

it is compulsory for parents to register their children. In the event a PPS number is not available for a student, the Department will use the mother’s maiden name to look up Department of Social Protection records.
The Department also reports that only information on ethnic and religious background requires the consent of a parent of guardian.

The data to be captured on the system may be captured on or an excel spreadsheet or on a schools  own system.

It is not clear that the data is safe or secure or how it is being protected by the Department of Education or the Schools.

Simon McGarr has pointed out “The Department of Education data protection notice explicitly refers to kids’ PPS Numbers as non sensitive data.”

Dept Screenshot

The Department of Education PPSN use case statement hasn’t been notified or approved by the Department of Welfare (via Simon McGarr)

The Department of Education claims support of the INTO and the National Parents Council. Speaking to one principal of a school it appears to be  very controversial, not least of all because of the huge administration workload it puts on the schools including the school being asked to retain the data for 30 years.

One member of board of  the National Parents Council (Primary) wasn’t even aware of the existence of the Primary Online Database.

I’m going to copy Simon McGarr’s tweets on this

A single database of everyone under 30, including religion, ethnicity is a major change in relationship between state & citizen. This isn’t he census- where strong legislative protections are given to the privacy of individuals. This will be a honeypot for datamining. The data is being used for a purpose other than that for which it was obtained. Storing all details of a primary school pupil until they’re 30 is excessive data retention.

The Department of Education is acting ultra vires (beyond their powers) in demanding the information.

As a parent you can write to the school and the Board of Management and inform them that

The Department is acting beyond its power. The Department of Welfare hasn’t been informed or consented to the use of PPSN.  They are breaching data protection legislation by using data for a purpose other than which it was obtained and by planning to retain that information for an excessive period of time.

Schools and boards should be aware they are personally responsible as data controllers to ensure that the data they hold is not used for a purpose other than that for which is was obtained and they are personally on risk if the department has acted ultra vires in demanding this data.

You can tell them explicitly that you don’t consent to giving them this data or to them transferring the data outside the school.

As Gavin Sheridan pointed out 

the only other database I can think of that is similar is PRIS. For the prison system

Credit for most of the points here go to Simon McGarr. Image credit to Søren Mørk Petersen Human Barcode on Flickr shared under Creative Commons.



education strategy

The Teachers Strike, Fool’s Mate and Strategic Play in Education

The teachers are on strike today. My wife among them. So I have skin in the game. I’ve lots, I’ve three kids as well. Still at primary with some superb teachers and I want the best education possible for them.

There is a good post here on why one teacher is going on strike and in it John Killeagh points out some of the things done on behalf of education reform so far

Remove Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools
Increase the pupil/teacher ratio
Cut capitation grants to schools
Again, cut capitation grants to schools (and again for next year)
Reduce supports for students with Special Educational Needs

John Killeagh in his piece states that “I don’t trust the motivations behind these measures.”

He’s right not to. Simon Wardley in another context talks about “Fool’s mate” and the where of Strategy.

Most of the problem appears to be that companies cannot see the environment (i.e. they have no map) and aren’t used to any actual form of strategic play.

I’m not going to draw a map in this context but I want to point out the strategic play in the education environment.

This is only partially about the assessment of the Junior Certificate. It is an important part of the play. Implementing continuous assessment may or may not be a good idea. If its done as planned it will start the creeping corruption of the Irish Education system that Fintan O’Toole has talked about. Twice. And the Ministers idea of 40% rather than 100% assessment. Well can you be 40% corrupt or 40% evil? Yes those are inflammatory words and if there are principles at play then how do you compromise on a principle. What is 40% of a principle?

Behind that move is an attempt to shift a higher admin and resourcing burden onto teachers. Figures from the UK support this. As does the notion that these sorts of approaches lead to corruption. 100 years of management attempts and the manipulation of every measurement system in business only reinforce this point.

This is primarily about money. No resources are being put in to support teachers.  Teachers can see the damage caused by Project Maths, where a pedagogically sound idea has been badly resourced and dreadfully implemented. One review paper on Project Maths referred to “Project Maths contains serious flaws in its syllabus and methodology.”  The title of the report by Dr Cora Stack ITT and other maths professionals “Project Maths and the dire consequences for Irish mathematics education and the knowledge society” is not very encouraging.  The practical difficulties problems are the reason that the Project Maths figures keep getting normalised each year. Students are frustrated, parents are frustrated and teachers are frustrated.

The Junior Cert is the tip of the spear. The 40% (or 30% or 10%) will eventually be pushed back to 100%. The changes to the Junior Cert will be rolled into the Leaving Certificate. The cost of running and administrating the system will shift significantly from the Department of Education to the teachers themselves.

As John Killeagh points out

Where is the educational merit of the decision?  Why does the minister not want to move on the 40% number?  Money.  The less work that is corrected by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the better.  It saves money.  In it’s original form, the JCSA appeared to be a precursor to phasing out the SEC.

The Government and the Department of Education is attempting to play Fools Mate against the teachers, using the education of children as its pawn.

Hopefully the Unions have seen through this.

Image via FergalTodayFM on Twitter