Analyse your potential: Internship and placement opportunities at OSR

There are many internship and student placement opportunities available throughout the Civil Service, and in the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) we try to give our interns a comprehensive, rounded experience to add to their skills and development, while ensuring they are treated as part of the team. In our latest blog, we talk to some recent placement students and interns about their experiences working at OSR.

Izzy – Government Statistical Service (GSS) Sandwich Year Placement, now working at HM Treasury

I did a sandwich year placement at OSR, between studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Leeds. The world of statistics regulation was not one I had been previously acquainted with, so I was very much going in blind.

I think one of the most eye-opening things I learnt at OSR was just how easy it is for statistics to be misused and misinterpreted! I came to understand that there is so much more to a statistic than just the number in front of you, and how important it is to be critical in your interpretation of data and evidence. This was a really useful lesson to learn, and definitely something I’ve taken forward in my final year of university, and beyond.

My placement highlight was definitely playing a leading role in OSR’s systemic review of poverty statistics. I got to work with departments across Whitehall, as well as interview a range of stakeholders including leading charities, think tanks and researchers. As a university student, it was extremely cool to be speaking to people whose papers I had spent my degree reading! It was also fascinating to learn about the complexities of measuring poverty, and to make a meaningful contribution towards improving how this is done within a space I care a lot about.

Since finishing university, I’ve started working in HM Treasury as a Policy Advisor specialising in economic risks. In my short time there, I’ve already found my year at OSR to have come in incredibly handy. I’ve learnt to engage much more critically with statistics and data when I use them in my work, which, as a policy advisor, is a really vital skill. I’ve also managed to hold my own in quite a few heated debates on inflation measurement, which is definitely not something I could have said before…!

I think statistics are hugely important for allowing the public to hold government to account for the decisions it takes. They enable people to understand and assess the motivations behind policy decisions that have a direct impact on their lives – as well as how effective those decisions ultimately are. In that way, statistics are a really crucial link between politics and the public – which is why OSR has such an important role to play in making that process as transparent as possible.

Ewan – The Government Economic Service Sandwich Student Placement Scheme

I’m currently part-way through my placement year working at OSR, between my studies in Economics at the University of Bath. I’ve been working in the Economy and Business, Trade and International Development domains.

My highlight of this year had to be working on casework. There is no specific casework that comes to mind, but I compare it to being a statistics detective. Hunting round, trying to find a claim’s sources never loses appeal. Furthermore, it is great feeling to find the smoking gun – the source or figure that they are claiming. Lastly, it feels like it has a direct impact. By regulating the use of statistics, OSR builds confidence in the statistics used in the public domain.

I wasn’t aware of OSR before my placement started, but I quickly understood how important it was that both the production and the use of statistics are kept to a high standard. It’s important to consider how statistics are used and the potential damage from their misuse.

The world is complicated, and people aren’t omniscient. Statistics are a way of depicting vast amounts of information in a clear understandable way. But statistics aren’t simply nice little descriptions of the world to be quoted at pubs. Statistics can make or break public policy proposals. The public should have as much information as possible to make informed decisions that best shape our future. This requires accurate and timely statistics which the public can trust. Furthermore, statistics are not just used for public policy as statistics are intertwined with our daily life. People use statistics to decide where their kids go to school or whether to stop smoking. Therefore, it is important that statistics are produced and presented to a high standard.

Following my placement, I will go back to university for my final year of my degree. From there, I plan to apply for the Government Economic Service fast track scheme.  I’ve really enjoyed my time at OSR – everyone has made me feel so welcome, and every day has felt different. The work varies quite substantially, and I rarely repeat a task. There is always something new to do and work rarely feels monotonous.

OSR has helped me develop as a person, both professionally and academically. I have no doubts that the skills I have obtained here will benefit me greatly in my academic and professional career. OSR has highlighted to me that I want to work within the public domain and have a positive impact on the lives of the general public.

Martin – The Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) (now the Summer Internship Programme (SIP))

Working at OSR was a great way to see first-hand how statistics are regulated. I gained an appreciation for how useful statistics are for users and the importance that they are trustworthy, made with quality and provide public value. I was involved in many projects whilst at OSR and whilst the work was challenging, I found it incredibly rewarding.

At first, I was nervous about working in an office environment, especially one focussed on statistics, as I graduated in film and philosophy. However, I quickly found out that OSR also provides roles that are more analytical than number-heavy, which I was very happy about. On arrival to OSR I was assigned a great line-manager, Grace, who inducted me into the organisation and introduced me to the team. I was very lucky as Grace was glad to answer any questions I had. I was also assigned a buddy, Ewan, who helped me settle in and answer the questions I had.

I completed SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) targets during my time at OSR. For example, I compiled a data evidence list in which I assessed and recorded whether sources contained specific information. This was an interesting task as it allowed me to see what information each source contained and built my experience in using office tools. I also constructed a survey on development and wellbeing within the department, which allowed me to gain an understanding of the thoughts and feelings of those working in OSR and assess how this could be improved. These tasks were useful as they provided me with transferable skills such as ICT use, project management and analytical skills.

Working at OSR also offers opportunities to work with other government departments. After asking my line-manger if I could do some work within the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), I was given an opportunity to work with Ben and Job from OSR’s crime and justice domain, on a compliance check of MOJ’s statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System and an assessment of Scottish prison population statistics. I found this work very interesting and am very grateful to have been given an opportunity to work on them.

Even though SDIP is online-based, I was able to visit the Newport office and both London offices, which gave me the opportunity to meet some of my colleagues in person and experience an immersive day-in-the-life on the job.

Overall, I would say the experience was highly positive as I feel I have improved my skillset since starting at OSR. Everyone being kind and friendly has also made it an experience that I won’t forget.

OSR is always keen to hear people’s views on statistics and how they are used. To get in touch with us, or just to stay up to date with our work, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Guest Blog: National Statistics – The Road to Accreditation

The Office for Statistics Regulation has today designated the Family Practitioner Services statistics in Northern Ireland as National Statistics.

In this guest blog, Martin Mayock, Head of the Family Practitioner Services (FPS) Information Unit in Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care (HSC) Business Services Organisation (BSO), and a Senior Statistician in the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), discusses his experience of the assessment process – which wasn’t, in fact, as daunting as his team first thought!

By way of background, Information Unit had always produced a wealth of information across primary care: medical, ophthalmic, dental and pharmaceutical services for internal use by our health policy and operational colleagues. We even, on occasion, publicly released various ad-hoc reports and tables but were a long way short of being a Code-compliant organisation. This despite BSO being a legally specified producer of Official Statistics (OS) since 2012. It’s not that we didn’t recognise the importance of compliance, it was simply a matter of resources and carving out sufficient time from our day-to-day analytical project support, to progress our OS aspirations. The key was good planning and accepting that this would not be done overnight, taking whatever time was necessary to update our processes, plug identified gaps and develop documentation. Of course, we needed the backing of senior management if we were going to be “distracted” from the day job so we first had to sell the benefits. 

Our first milestone was to release an Annual Compendium in 2018, covering all of our key primary care areas, complying with the Code as far as possible. A quarterly series soon followed and by our third year, responding to user demand, we were ready to split the compendium into separate service areas with a dedicated team responsible for each. User engagement was a key component of the work programme with readership surveys, supplemented by targeted stakeholder interviews, allowing each release to evolve in a way most beneficial to its user base. The fact that our teams were both users, through our ongoing project work, and producers of the data helped enormously in improving its quality and offering guidance on its use. 

By our fourth year, and following two successive releases of our service specific publications, we were finally ready to push the button and subject our outputs to the all seeing eye of the OSR. Yes, it had taken a few years to get to this point, albeit from a fairly low base, but we now felt confident that our processes were in order and we had a good story to tell. The invite was duly issued in November ‘21 and we had our assessment initiation meeting with the OSR team, headed by Dr Anna Price, in January this year. Everything was clearly explained to us in terms of how the process would run and what would be expected from us by way of evidence. The OSR team, comprising Anna, Jo Mulligan and Sarah Whitehead, were really open and friendly (surely a ruse to get us to lower our guard lol) and keen to help with various initiatives that we were planning such as the introduction of Reproducible Analytical Pipelines into our production process. It all seemed reasonably straightforward and, certainly as a veteran of 4 previous assessment campaigns in other NI Departments, much less formal and bureaucratic than I had remembered – can’t last, I thought! 

Roll forward to February, and we had our follow up meeting with the assessment team to discuss our submitted evidence but also, importantly, draw upon information the team had gleaned from our users. This meeting involved all of our publication leads so, with virtual flak jackets donned, we braced ourselves for the inevitable onslaught. But, again, we were pleasantly surprised. The meeting was more like an interesting chat around our various processes, with helpful suggestions and resources offered which could further enhance our outputs. Of course, there were queries and clarifications sought, some of which were followed up in writing in the weeks that followed, but these were conveyed in a constructive way and the different perspective offered us an opportunity to highlight aspects of our process that we’d overlooked in our initial evidence submission.

We received first sight of our draft assessment report the following month and I admit to opening the document with a feeling of slight trepidation. I’d had the impression that the team felt we were in reasonable shape from our meetings but there’s always requirements, I mean they have to find something, right? But no, I read the report twice, definitely no requirements! What it did contain was a succinct summary of how we matched up against the Code of Practice pillars of Trustworthiness, Quality and Value along with some helpful suggestions of where we could enhance our outputs against these. Several useful resources which we might find useful in this regard were also signposted. We had an opportunity to suggest any amendments and correct any factual inaccuracies, of which there were very few, and several weeks later we were notified that the report and recommendation to designate our outputs as National Statistics had been accepted by OSR Regulation Committee. Our journey was finally complete! Of course, it never really ends and we will need to continue to improve and innovate to ensure standards are maintained and the needs of ever more demanding users continue to be satisfied.

Before signing off, I thought I’d leave you with what I feel were the three most important factors in helping us achieve our designation so painlessly.

  • Invest time achieving proper buy-in from senior management within your organisation – you will need their support to allow you to spend time developing aspects of your processes that they may not immediately see as being important to their core business.
  • Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – Don’t rush to get your outputs assessed, wait until you are properly ready. We were also able to draw upon the support of our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) who provided lots of good advice and resources, including other relevant assessment reports. The assessment focus can change over time and statisticians are constantly innovating. We can learn a lot from our peers. I’m not saying take 4 years but, if you invite an assessment too early, then you will leave yourself with a limited window, typically 3 months, in which to meet requirements. This could feel like a burden on top of your business as usual. Better to meet as many potential requirements ahead of time as possible.
  • Have similar outputs assessed as a batch – it might seem tempting to submit individual outputs for assessment in order to make the process more manageable or you may feel that some are more ready than others. However, there can be synergies between outputs and processes that make sense to consider together. We also included all of our publication leads when we met with the assessment team and this all helped deliver a more rounded and efficient assessment.

In my experience, the assessment process itself has definitely evolved for the better and feels more like a collaborative venture these days rather than a statistical audit. It definitely feels more light touch than previously and, although a lot of hard yards are still required to ready your outputs, it is great to see that your efforts will be recognised by the assessment team. 

The Family Practitioner Services statistics in Northern Ireland assessment report has been published today, less than six months since the initial invite for assessment. 

All-in-all we found it to be a very worthwhile and positive experience so if you are thinking of taking the plunge then go for it, you might just be pleasantly surprised! 

International Women’s Day 2020

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, we asked some of our OSR team about working in the world of statistics and what International Women’s Day means to them…

Liddy Brankley – Statistics Regulator, Population and Society

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I’m interested in understanding the world around me, particularly the society we live in and the issues that affect our society and the people living in it. I’m passionate about working at Office for Statistics Regulation because I want statistics to reflect the key societal issues people are interested in so they can be used to help people make informed decisions about their own lives.

During the 2019 General Election, I coordinated reviewing the statistics referenced in each of the main political parties’ manifestos, and kept an eye on speeches and social media for potentially misleading representations of official statistics. I’m proud of how quickly we were able to review each case, form a judgement and put out a statement to clarify the appropriate interpretation of the statistics, which hopefully helped voters to make informed decisions at the polls.

International Women’s Day for me, is a reminder to recognise and applaud the everyday hard work, resilience, and kindness of women and girls around the world. It’s a chance to think about the vital roles women play in our society and how often this has been and continues to be underappreciated and overlooked. International Women’s Day is a celebration of all the wonderful, complex women out there. It’s also a call to action on the unique but systemic issues women face today and every day.


Nisha Bunting – Statistics Regulator, Education

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Working in statistics wasn’t really a conscious decision but more just the career path I happened to follow! I have a Masters in Information Science and after several roles in information and planning, I found myself developing and managing Performance Indicators in roadworks! Since working at OSR I have been working on a review: Exploring the public value of statistics about Post 16 Education and Skills across the UK as well as the varied attainment and destinations of school leavers across the UK. It’s great to feel that you have contributed to getting organisations working in partnership to achieve a common goal.

I think it is really important that girls realise and are encouraged that they can be anything they want regardless not only of their gender, but also of their background and status. This is something that should be high on a schools’ agenda as well as from the external influences that affect them.

Gail Rankin – Head of Edinburgh Office and Systemic Review Programme

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Prior to OSR, I worked as the data and performance lead for a local authority. Understanding the challenges of delivering and measuring the success of the services needed to support a city, measuring real time how new government policy and legislation affected these, and working with person level datasets changed my outlook on data – data wasn’t just numbers anymore needed to make a bridge stand up or to inform a policy decision, behind every number there were real people living real lives.

Statistics are not just for governments or policy makers, they are for everyone – they allow individuals to be more informed, support better public debate and ensure that services are designed on real need.

To me, International Women’s Day is a day to focus attention and drive action on the issues affecting women, as well as providing a platform to celebrate and highlight the achievements of women across the world.

Catherine Bromley – Head of Research

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I decided to work in this field because I wanted to change the world – statistics seemed like a good way to try!

A big piece of work I’ve been involved with at the Office of Statistics Regulation is Joining Up Data For Better Statistics. Data sharing is often met with fear and caution, but it is so important to make the case that people’s lives are complex and statistics need to be better connected to reflect that. I’m really proud of the response our recommendations had and feel like we’ve started to make some important headway.

International Women’s Day to me, is a chance to showcase women’s achievements and voices. Women have not traditionally had a high profile in the world of statistics – this is changing but more needs to be done.


Emily Tew – Head of Data and Automation

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To me, International Women’s Day is a celebration of how far we’ve come for equality as well as a consideration of how far we still need to go both in the UK and globally. Being a data scientist myself, I still see the massive gap in women in the Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) sectors and this is something that needs to change.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without women such as Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale, who produced ground-breaking work often up against harsh opposition from male scientists in their field. Luckily, the challenges are not quite as extreme as in the late 1800s but we are not quite at full equality yet and encouraging women to study these subjects at school or University will help bridge the gap.

The proof is in the data-pudding

This is a guest blog by Dr Elizabeth Lemmon (University of Edinburgh) and Dr David Henderson (Edinburgh Napier University).

The Unanswered Questions

Do older people in need of care in Scotland get it? Do social care services prevent unnecessary hospital admissions? What is the quality of life like for an older person with dementia who lives at home with their partner? Indeed, what is the quality of life for their partner?

These are just some of the questions in the health and social care system that we don’t have answers to. As the population continues to age and as local government budgets continue to be squeezed, the need to answer these questions is ever increasing.

In this area there is good news, better news and, unfortunately, some not so good news.

The Good News

Scotland is in a unique position to answer these questions.

In particular, for many years, the Scottish Government routinely collected data on all social care services delivered across the thirty-two local authorities in Scotland via its Social Care Survey (SCS). There are no comparable national-level social care data collections elsewhere in the UK. From 2010/11, the survey collected individual-level data from each local authority including information on the types and amounts of social care provided and commissioned by each local authority.

The collection and quality of the SCS data improved over time and in 2017 a new adult social care data collection, administered by the Information Services Division (ISD) of NHS Scotland, replaced the SCS. ISD have plans to increase the frequency of data recording by local authorities and improve the quality of the data collected. This should help us provide an even clearer picture of care delivery in Scotland.

The data that has been collected, like other administrative data sources, was not designed for research purposes, but the potential for it to be used in a research environment is ample.

The Better News

Researchers can request access to use SCS data directly from the Scottish Government. The potential for research using the SCS is boosted further by the possibility of data linkage. That is, linking individual-level data from multiple sources e.g. health and social care records. Approval for this sort of research is granted via the Public Benefit and Privacy Panel (PBPP).

Linkage opens a host of avenues to researchers that can help tackle those pressing questions about our ageing population in ways that were previously impossible.

Over the past decade, Scotland has made major advances in developing infrastructure to provide a data linkage service, which has enabled such research to take place in a secure setting. This has occurred in tandem with strict Information Governance (IG) procedures ensuring the privacy of individuals information.

The PBPP was set up to review and scrutinise applications from researchers wishing to use NHS data and any projects which link NHS data to other sources e.g. social care data. The purpose of the panel is to ensure that the public benefit and privacy implications of projects have been fully thought through by applicants, and to ensure that the small risk to the privacy of individuals is even further minimised.

We were in fact two of the very first researchers to successfully gain access to linked SCS and health data (albeit for two separate projects). There is also future work planned to take advantage of improved data collections and assess any variations in access to social care services that may exist.   Despite these advances, there is a dearth of research in this area in Scotland. You might wonder why that would be?  Let us elaborate….

The Not so Good News

We put this down to a couple of reasons. Firstly, access to linked SCS and health data takes considerable time before becoming available to researchers. In our experience, from the point of receiving approval from the PBPP to accessing data, took approximately two years. These kinds of time scales simply aren’t conducive to producing timely and policy relevant research (nor to early career researcher’s funding deadlines). Efforts are underway to improve this process but progress is slow, and no firm plans have been released.

Secondly, as we have mentioned, the data are not designed for research purposes. This often means there are large differences in recording practices across the country. Data quality issues include missing information and a lack of important variables which may be crucial to answering research questions. With the SCS in particular, the measures of client need are deficient, the information on the living arrangements of a client are poorly completed, as is information on support from unpaid carers.

Although we acknowledge that historically data has not been collected with research in mind, we wonder if it would be helpful to engage researchers in the design of the collection of data. This is not just to benefit researchers, but also to assist service delivery and answer the vital policy questions that government has.

The Summary

From our perspective, we are lucky in Scotland to have a social care data-pudding. Most other countries only have crumbs of data that, when mixed, often taste a little sour. Whilst some pudding is always better than none, and we count ourselves very lucky to have had a taste of ours, it was a complex process to obtain it and when we eventually got there, we found it to be missing some key ingredients.

Going forward, we welcome the Office for Statistics Regulation’s new report into adult social care statistics in Scotland. In particular, their recommendation for Public Health Scotland and Scottish Government to convene a social care data user summit in 2020. A summit of this kind would allow researchers to share their experiences and knowledge in working with Scottish social care data, providing an opportunity to improve the use of this data in research and more importantly open up the discussion around common challenges associated with working with and accessing Scottish social care data. More broadly, the recommendation for a user summit aligns well with the recent Early Career Researchers Using Scottish Administrative Data (eCRUSADers) movement among the academic community, a platform which recognises the need and desire to share knowledge and experiences in using Scottish administrative data for research.

Dr Elizabeth Lemmon (University of Edinburgh) and Dr David Henderson (Edinburgh Napier University)