Lessons from statisticians producing Children, Education and Skills statistics

Statistics are of value when they support society’s need for information; they should be useful, easy to access, remain relevant, and support understanding of important issues. To help deliver this, producers of statistics should commit to continuously improve their service to users.

I have been part of the team working on the refresh of the Code of Practice of Statistics. There have been various changes within the Code but without a doubt the area which I am most excited to see enhanced is the new Innovation and improvement principle. At the Office for Statistics Regulation we have always expected producers of statistics to adapt so statistics can better serve the public but now this expectation is crystallised in the code.

During conversations about the development of the Code I received several questions about this area and I felt there was a sense of nervousness about how it might be applied; this is understandable with anything new. The new principle is about having a positive mindset to change and improvement across all statistics production and dissemination processes. However, the practices which sit beneath the principle are not a prescriptive list of what must be done instead they should be applied proportionately depending on the statistics in question. As a result, how producers respond to this principle will differ in scale and approach. What is most important is producers’ motivation to improve their statistics.

I was keen to undertake a small project to help support producers of statistics get a better handle on what the Innovation and improvement principle meant for them. My colleague Louisa and I both focus on Children, Education and Skills (CES) statistics. This thematic way of working gives us the opportunity to better understand policy and statistics issues, and develop relationships with a range of users and producers of CES statistics. From our ongoing conversations we were aware of several innovations in this area of statistics, such as work to develop the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data which is relatively well known about. We wanted to find out more about other projects however, to learn about less well publicised developments or smaller scale projects which, nonetheless, reflect an ambition to improve the value of the statistics.

We started by asking producers of CES data and statistics across the UK to send us information on the projects they had been working on. We were pleased by the range of responses we received. The projects, whether completed or still in development, varied in scale and covered everything from producing statistics using Reproducible Analytical Pipelines to improved accessibility to data.  It was clear to us that improvement, whether big or small, was embedded in much of the activities of producers – it was great to hear just how enthusiastic producers were about their projects. We also spoke with users to get their feedback on some of the development work, to find out how they have benefited from the improvements being made. Here is a link to a summary of the innovation and improvement projects producers told us about.

Over the coming weeks we want to share with you some of the common themes that became apparent from talking with producers and users linked to these projects. Firstly, we want to look at the importance of collaborative working when developing statistics, then at the development of alternative statistical outputs, and finally at some of the common challenges producers face when improving their statistics. While these themes have come from examples taken from Children, Education and Skills statistics it is intended to give all producers of statistics a better sense of what the new Innovation and improvement principle might mean to them and highlight elements of good practice we might expect to see when assessing statistics.

As this review is considering innovation in statistics, we ourselves wanted to be more creative in thinking about how we would share our findings. Instead of a more traditional report, we are going to publish our work across a series of web posts.  We will also be exploring, with the Government Statistical Service’s Good Practice Team, how else we might support producers undertaking innovation and improvement work.

For now, keep an eye out for our forth coming posts, and if you want to get in touch, linked to this review or on CES statistics more generally, please do email.