Educational Triage

It’s frightening out there.

Data-based accountability within education means we aren’t really teaching anymore, we are producing, manufacturing and manipulating. Teacher’s work is increasingly constrained by performativity demands to produce ‘appropriate’ data so ‘if the teaching is good, the data should be good and if there’s bad teaching, there is bad data’ (Roberts-Holmes, 2014).

Guy Roberts-Holmes and Alice Bradbury (2016) in their article say,

“The ‘datafication’ of the early years suggests that it is in the process of becoming the first stage in a ‘delivery chain’ (Ball et al. 2012), passing ‘appropriate’ numeracy and literacy data higher up the data chain and into the primary and secondary school system.”

They point to a triage effect in schools which has led to the neglect of some children in order to push targeted children over specific performativity hurdles.

And that’s precisely what has happened. Teachers triage with accountability in mind. All students have needs but some can sit in the waiting room and some can just be sent home.

Gilborn and Youdell (2000) argue that schools perform a triage like nurses in Accident and Emergency categorising pupils into three cases:

  1. Safe cases – those who will achieve anyway and therefore don’t require too much input. They will ‘survive’ without intervention.
  2. Hopeless cases – those who would be a waste of effort and unlikely to ‘survive’ even with treatment.
  3. Borderline cases – underachievers who require immediate treatment.

Gillborn and Youdell applied this triage process to GCSE Maths examining the systematic process of directing educational resources to some pupils whilst neglecting others.


Triaging is deciding the order of treatment but are we really giving up on some children? Is it right that some children get a disproportionate amount of resources over others?

In a hospital environment triage makes sense – you treat the seriously ill first, not someone who has stubbed one of their toes. But in education, does triaging really work in an accountability culture?

Schools need to be ‘resourced’ in ways that ensure that all children get the support they need and we don’t succumb to labelling them with invisible triage tags.

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