smiling children

Freeing-up education data: An irresistible proposition

By George Hoare 20 May 2016

Education and data: two areas NPC works on which may seem poles apart. While it’s easy to understand the importance of the former—as the Secretary of State for Education put it ‘education has the power to transform lives’—data sounds like a niche subject for the geeks of this world. But data also has power—enabling us to understand, learn and improve. The government seems to agree with us on the importance of these issues—the Queen’s Speech included both education and digital bills that have ambitions to reform these areas. But we can only make progress if we know what works.

The aim of our Data Labs project is to open up government data to help charities and other organisations analyse the difference they make. We’ve had success with the Justice Data Lab—working with the Ministry of Justice to establish a service that measures the impact of interventions on re-offending. The Department for Education holds equally useful data on students in the National Pupil Database (NPD)—it’s one of the richest data sets in the world, but very hard to access for most organisations working in the education sector. We believe there’s a clear case for a similar Education Impact Data Lab (EIDL), especially considering there are more charities and social enterprises working in schools than in prisons, so there’s likely to be even more demand. Here are the main benefits:

Saving time and money

Currently, charities have to commission independent studies to understand their impact. The cost of setting-up and running the EIDL would reduce the cost of these individual projects, and would not exclude smaller organisations that don’t have the resources or capabilities to run them. It would also be less demanding for the schools and staff involved and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.

Helping schools make decisions

Headteachers need evidence that the interventions they bring into their schools are value for money. The EIDL would provide charities and other organisations with reliable and trustworthy evidence, helping them make their case and giving confidence to schools that the services they provide will actually benefit their students.

Improving services and learning what works

The purpose of evaluation is to learn and improve, so users of the EIDL would be able to develop their services based on the evidence provided. This would lead to better outcomes for young people and resources used in the best way. The EIDL would also help build a wider evidence base for what works on-the-ground in schools; benefiting all providers and informing policy development.

Safe and secure

A key strength of the EIDL model is that there are not privacy or data protection issues—individual organisations would not have access to NPD data itself and the reports only provide aggregated data, which protects the privacy of individuals. A full Privacy Impact Assessment was conducted for the Justice Data Lab which showed the process complies with both the Data Protection Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

An irresistible proposition…

For us, the EIDL is an irresistible proposition. It’s an established approach to the challenge of understanding what works in education and helping the school system improve outcomes, and already has strong support from the charity sector. We would go as far as to say the government has an ethical duty to introduce this service and we hope to see progress soon.