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Judgement before evidence. How come?

We recently received a Tweet asking why the iAbacus process asks users to make a judgement before inputting evidence. It is a subject near to the heart of co-creator John Pearce. Here he explains why.

Actually the iAbacus does start with evidence! The individual user’s judgement – as they slide the bead – is based on their professional intelligence of their known circumstances. I have found that nearly all professionals I have worked with are able to make such a judgement very quickly and invariably accurately, without having to plough through the kind of “evidence” that outsiders need. I’m thinking of inspectors, reviewers, and evaluators who have little, or no knowledge of a specific workplace.

Indeed, the iAbacus was created when I saw professionals paralysed by feeling they needed to mine data mountains before they could make a judgement. I saw this disempower a crucial professional capacity, namely an ability to compute a myriad of evidence, in our heads, as we do in real time, every day.

However, I also saw naive and sometimes arrogant colleagues rubbish any outsider who tried to judge their practice. They would typically say: “They couldn’t do our job; we know best; they don’t understand our situation”.

Even worse, they ignored the useful criteria and the evidence used in external frameworks and schedules. Sadly, some still refuse to take part in review activity, including lesson observations. This is an ill-informed response to the need for accountability. Understandable perhaps, but a suicide note for professionalism.

As a school adviser, I wanted a process that built professional capacity and offered disempowered teachers some hope. So, I asked them how they were doing, got them to put a cross on a continuum (later to slide a bead) and then gently challenged them to back up their claims with actual evidence of practice. It worked, and I used it time and again to good effect. I remember calling it “Getting your revenge in first” at the time, in order to ensure they were ready to face inspectors when they came back to judge their performance.

Doing it this way round (make a judgement – check criteria and then select evidence) I found that most colleagues were better able to select the most convincing evidence to “prove” their initial nous judgement. Those that couldn’t, or struggled to justify their judgement, had little alternative but to modify it. The analysis of helping and hindering factors allowed them to identify the next steps to maintain, sustain, or improve their current level of practice.

iAbacus users don’t have to go through the process in the order we present it. Nevertheless, most do because it makes sense. I suppose it is technically possible to go to the evidence box and fill it and then go back and check against criteria, and then make the judgement, but I reckon that’s not how most people, who know their own circumstances, work. Don’t we all have a deep sense of how well we are doing? The iAbacus works from that sense.

All this is why the iAbacus was designed as an iterative process – you can go back and forth easily to modify and update any stage of the process. The key issues it tackles and enhances are the professionals’ understanding of the intimate relationship between their judgement – the criteria being used by others (and themselves) to judge – the evidence needed to justify, or prove that judgement and then an analysis of why this is and how it may be different. This all leads to the critical final step of taking action to make, or sustain, progress.

I still believe the iAbacus is unique in its approach. In a deliberate way it is a classic counselling, or coaching process, respecting the professional’s perspective but it is strengthened by the rigour and science of: evidence based, criterion referenced judgement, analysis and action.

The iAbacus process can be applied in almost any area of education, with templates available for school improvement, performance management, curriculum subjects, governance and much more. To get started using one of these templates – simply log in your iAbacus account at and click “Create Abacus”.


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