a student taking an exam

We all want to know how well our kids are doing, don’t we?

By Tracey Gyateng 20 August 2015

Today, thousands of children across the country are finding out the results of their GCSEs. Will their hard work have paid off? Parents, teachers and other people involved in these young people’s lives will also want to know how they got on. But while teachers have access to the data they need to understand whether or not they have helped their pupils make the grade, what about the other organisations who may have worked with students—tutoring charities, youth organisations and university access projects, for example?

As a matter of course, these organisations should—and often do—contact children or parents to get feedback on whether their services have proved useful. But what if they too could access the statistics they need to determine for sure whether or not they are helping children to reach their academic potential?

One of our core projects Data Labs, was designed to overcome this challenge by opening up government administrative data to help the charity sector understand whether or not their interventions have made a difference to beneficiaries. The result? A charity can compare the results of beneficiaries who have accessed their service with a matched group of those who have not.  The significant benefit of these government administrative datasets is that they often hold the answers to understanding the longer-term impact: what happened further down the line to the beneficiaries that a charity has worked with.

Take our ongoing work with the Ministry of Justice to support the Justice Data Lab—the programme can use administrative data of people entering and exiting the criminal justice system to evaluate whether a charity’s intervention (to, for example, reduce re-offending rates) is effective. This model can be translated across all social policy areas, and we’re currently working in health, employment and education.

Why education? Because it’s important. From the moment a child is born they need to be nurtured within a loving and learning environment to thrive. One measure of how they will be able to prosper is whether they have achieved good educational qualifications. We know that exam results are only one measure, and shouldn’t be the sole assessment for how a child is doing (which is why we developed a tool to support organisations working with children to measure well-being). Yet many organisations spend a great deal of time, energy and resources trying to help young people achieve their potential in school to increase their social mobility. These charities and, more importantly, the people they exist to serve, deserve to know to what extent these interventions work.

So, to answer the initial question of whether we all want to know how well our kids are doing: yes of course we do. Can helping charities access analysis of educational performance help us do this? We think so. But in working to develop an education data lab*, we need to be sure that the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector would use it if it were created. So we need your opinions! Please let us know what you think about the idea by completing our survey.

If you want hear more about our Data Labs project, do also come along to our free event on the 22 September, where we will discuss updates to the Justice Data Lab and our progress within other policy areas.

*NPC’s proposed education data lab is different to the Fischer Family Trust ‘education data lab’ which focuses on research examining the impact of educational policy and practice.