Ed Humpherson response to Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney: Department for Education COVID-19 school statistics

Dear Mary and Kevin

Thank you for raising your concerns about the Department for Education’s Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak statistics. You were concerned that a reference to local breakdowns of pupil attendance data in a BBC article on 1 December breached orderly release of the statistics and that the Department has failed to publish these data in a timely manner.

We are aware that the Department for Education provides local breakdowns of data on schools as management information to a range of government and local authority users to enable them to manage schools. We understand that these were the data quoted in the BBC article.

In order to prepare these data for publication on 15 December, the Department for Education told us it is undertaking more data analysis and quality assurance than it does for the management information. The Department has shared the management information as quickly as possible for operational purposes, accompanied by caveats regarding the limitations of the data and how they should be used.

This does present a risk that the data can make their way into the public domain, which can cause confusion and undermine confidence. Organisations should think carefully about doing this and consider what can be done to mitigate these risks. For example, by being clear on the reasons for the approach taken and publishing the data as soon as the organisation is able to. I welcome the statement published alongside the statistics by the Department today explaining its approach to sharing management information.

We consider it reasonable for the Department to take time to thoroughly quality assure its published official statistics and acknowledge the pressures that statisticians are under to produce extensive, timely data on schools during the pandemic. However, we do encourage the Department for Education to consider the timeliness of its publications to meet a broad range of user needs where it is practically possible. We have brought these issues to the Department’s attention.

Yours sincerely

 

Ed Humpherson

Director General for Regulation

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Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney to Ed Humpherson: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis

Ed Humpherson response to Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis 

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney to Ed Humpherson: Department for Education COVID-19 school statistics

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney to Ed Humpherson: Department for Education COVID-19 school statistics

Dear Mr Humpherson

We are writing to bring to your attention a breach of your Code of Practice for Statistics relating to the Department for Education’s survey, “Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak”. The publication is here: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/attendance-in-education-and-early-years-settings-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak.

Yesterday the Department announced that they would finally be releasing regional and local breakdowns of the pupil attendance data on the 15th December. However, Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC’s Education Editor, reported on this data saying that she had been given exclusive access to it, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-55145313. We believe that this is a breach of the Department’s duty to ensure their data is trustworthy through its orderly release. We believe that this release either breached paragraphs T3.3 or T3.4 of the Code.

In addition, we believe the Department failed to release this information in a timely fashion, paragraph T3.5. This information is very relevant to the public debate around the management of schools and how examinations should be managed next year.

Yours sincerely

Mary Bousted                                                           Kevin Courtney

Joint General Secretary                                        Joint General Secretary

 

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Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney to Ed Humpherson: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis

Ed Humpherson response to Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis 

Ed Humpherson response to Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney: Department for Education COVID-19 school statistics

Ed Humpherson response to Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis 

Dear Mary and Kevin

Thank you for raising your concerns about the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) ad hoc analysis of the number of school workers, key workers and other professions in England who had COVID-19, which was included in the 6 November Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey bulletin, and the teacher attendance statistics produced by the Department for Education (DfE). We have considered the concerns you raised and respond to them below.

ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis

As you are aware, we published our response to Dr Sarah Rasmussen’s similar concerns about the ONS ad hoc analysis on 26 November. We think that it is important to acknowledge the speed with which ONS is making analysis available, but it could have made some of its decisions clearer for those reading the bulletin. ONS has published a statement which explains some of these decisions and updates the ad hoc analysis to include “all teachers” in one category – the breakdown suggested in your letter. We understand that presenting infection rates as they change over time would require additional work which ONS is currently unable to carry out.

There is a wide range of data sources available on COVID-19. We consider ONS’s COVID-19 Infection Survey to be the best available source of data on infection rates, and the recommended source for making comparisons between occupations.

You may be aware that we are undertaking a review of the COVID-19 Infection Survey as a follow up to the Rapid Review of the survey we completed in May 2020. We will consider some of the points you raised in more detail through this review, which we expect to publish in early 2021.

DfE teacher attendance statistics

My team have spoken to statisticians in DfE to understand more about the quality issue relating to DfE’s teacher attendance statistics that you highlighted in your letter. These are important statistics with a clear user need.

DfE explained that data about teachers are more complex than those about pupils, since staff can be part time, job share or undertake multiple roles within a school or even across multiple schools. Furthermore, the wider context is more complicated now than at the end of the previous school term. When schools were only open to key worker children and limited year groups full teacher attendance was not expected. At this time DfE simply reported the number of teachers attending schools. However, from September schools have been expected to operate in a more normal way and therefore the proportion of the workforce attending is the measure of interest. As a result of this more complex data, DfE is taking time to thoroughly assure itself of the quality of the teacher attendance data and properly contextualise the findings.

DfE told us that it has prioritised publication of other analyses, such as that on the status of schools (whether they are open or closed) and attendance of pupils, as it considers there is greater user need for this information. However, we are pleased that DfE confirmed to us its intention to publish the teacher attendance data in early 2021, and that it will also publish local estimates of pupil absence from mid-December.

Yours sincerely

 

Ed Humpherson

Director General for Regulation

 

Related Links

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney to Ed Humpherson: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney to Ed Humpherson: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis

Dear Mr Humpherson

Re: Reported breach of the Code of Practice by ONS in the Coronavirus Infection Study: 6th November

We have seen that Dr Sarah Rasmussen has reported a breach of the Code of Practice of Statistics to you on Saturday 21st November. We share her concerns about the ad hoc section, “Analysis of the number of school workers, key workers and other professions in England who had COVID-19”.

We hope that you will recommend that the Office for National Statistics releases an update to this flawed report that examines the data in the following way: by grouping the professions into Teacher, University lecturer, Education support staff, Other professions, and Other key worker; reports the rates as they change over time either in days, weeks or fortnights as with other data in the report up to the most recent period.

We are concerned that there are currently high rates of infection amongst teachers and the ad hoc analysis has created a false impression. We note that TeacherTapp, an app that surveys teachers, showed that the proportion of teachers self-isolating on 17th November was 7% and this was up from a fairly static 4% last half term.

The tweet is here: https://twitter.com/miss_mcinerney/status/1329084813874143240

We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that the Department for Education has not published any statistics on teacher attendance this term. The Department collects the data from schools weekly as part of their survey, “Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak”.
The publication is here: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/attendance-in-education-and-early-years-settings-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

Last term the Department published attendance by teachers and non-teaching staff on a weekly basis. On 21st October, Nick Gibb said, “We are currently looking at the quality of the teacher attendance data with a view to publishing as part of the official statistics series” in response to a question from Margaret Greenwood MP about teacher attendance. We would be grateful if you could investigate exactly what this quality issue is and why has become such an issue this term when it was not last.

Yours sincerely

 

Mary Bousted                                                                                Kevin Courtney

Joint General Secretary                                                                Joint General Secretary

 

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Ed Humpherson response to Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney: ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey ad hoc analysis