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The “datafication” of teaching: can teachers speak back to the numbers?

Stevenson, Howard

The “datafication” of teaching: can teachers speak back to the numbers? Thumbnail


Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


Teachers face considerable and increasing pressure in their working lives. Labor intensification compels teachers to work faster, harder, and longer. However, teachers also experience increasing external control over what they teach and how they teach. These processes are increasingly made possible by the “datafication” of teaching, whereby the educational process is increasingly transformed into numbers that allow measurement, comparison, and the functioning of high-stakes accountability systems linked to rewards and sanctions. Although there is no question that being able to use student assessment data to support learning has an important place in teachers' repertoire of skills, “datafication” refers to the use of data in a way that has become increasingly detached from supporting learning and is much more concerned with the management of teacher performance as an end in itself. This article presents two currents of critical thought in relation to teachers' work, labor process theory and poststructural analyses grounded in the concept of performativity, and discusses them as a way of “making sense” of teachers' work and the “datafication” of teaching, with a particular focus on questions of control and resistance.

 It seeks to understand why, despite the pressures on teachers, teacher resistance has seldom developed in ways, at times, or on a scale that both experience and theoretical insight might have predicted. There are clearly significant differences between the two perspectives presented in this article, not least in the ways they conceptualize and explain “resistance.” However, common ground is identifiable and the two theoretical approaches can be bridged in a form that can be productive for those seeking to “speak back to the numbers.” In looking to broker this theoretical divide, I argue that frame theory, rooted within the sociology of social movements, can offer a fruitful way of theory bridging, while also providing the basis for a wider politics of transformation. The article offers several examples of grassroots initiatives formed to oppose standardized testing in England that provide practical examples of this “ideas work” in action.


Stevenson, H. (2017). The “datafication” of teaching: can teachers speak back to the numbers?. Peabody Journal of Education, 92(4), 537-557.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 30, 2017
Online Publication Date Jul 5, 2017
Publication Date Jul 5, 2017
Deposit Date Aug 30, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jan 6, 2019
Journal Peabody Journal of Education
Print ISSN 0161-956X
Electronic ISSN 1532-7930
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 92
Issue 4
Pages 537-557
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Peabody Journal of Education on 5 July 2017, available online:


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