Data linkage and sharing
- Through conversations with users and our own research we identified that data sharing and data linkage are particular strengths of the KS4 performance statistics in terms of providing value. The KS4 data themselves are produced by linking KS4 exam results to KS2 attainment and the School Census. The data are also uploaded to the National Pupil Database which allows for further linkage and analysis by expert users.
- DfE provides many shares of these data for multiple purposes as can be seen through its data shares transparency releases. These shares enable a greater understanding of the interactions between different aspects of children’s lives, the impact of these on attainment and the impact of attainment on later outcomes. They also help to inform policy within DfE and in other departments.
- One specific example of a data linkage and share for the public good that uses the KS4 performance data is the Grade and Admissions Dataset for England. In December 2021 we wrote to congratulate Ofqual, DfE, Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) for their involvement in making a linked dataset available to support research on the education, assessment and admissions systems. Making data available from 2017, 2018 and 2019, alongside data from 2020, showed a commitment to transparency in relation to the awarding of grades in 2020, and willingness to gain insights on the impact on further education, higher education and employment and from the functioning of the system in years when exams are available. This was an excellent example of collaboration with other producers, overcoming practical obstacles, and sharing best practice. Other data linkages and shares include the Ministry of Justice/DfE data share, the ECHILD project and Longitudinal Educational Outcomes study.
- During our conversations with users, they praised the access that they receive to the underlying KS4 performance data. However, several users raised issues around the length of time that it takes to get access to the datasets on the Secure Research Service (SRS), citing that this can substantially delay projects. The SRS is hosted by ONS and enables accredited or approved researchers to securely access de-identified data in order to conduct research projects for the public good. Over the past five years DfE has done substantial work to streamline and speed up the processes involved in making data available to accredited researchers. However, the process necessarily involves consideration by a data approval panel and processes to ensure that each researcher is not inadvertently provided access to multiple datasets that could enable identification of individuals. DfE takes the confidentiality of its data very seriously and so there is a specific process to produce each dataset for the SRS. Because of this, linked datasets requests are more complicated, requiring approval from multiple organisations, and do take longer.
- In October 2020 the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published a summary of its Data Protection Audit for the Department for Education. In a statement on the audit ICO said ‘The audit found that data protection was not being prioritised and this had severely impacted the DfE’s ability to comply with the UK’s data protection laws. A total of 139 recommendations for improvement were found, with over 60% classified as urgent or high priority.’
- The ICO audit looked at DfE as a whole and the recommendations covered several different areas. Although the KS4 statistics are not specifically referenced in the report, they are affected by some of the recommendations which relate to privacy information provided to data subjects and the processes around approvals for data sharing. Adherence to these recommendations will support DfE with maintaining compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics, specifically that ‘Organisations should look after people’s information securely and manage data in ways that are consistent with relevant legislation and serve the public good’ and that ‘The rights of data subjects must be considered and managed at all times in ways that are consistent with data protection legislation’.
- In addition to the ICO audit, concerns have previously been raised with us on the data governance procedures around the National Pupil Database (NPD) which consists of data from multiple sources including KS4 performance data. In order for people to have confidence in DfE’s data governance procedures they must be seen to be adhering to all relevant legislation. In January 2021 DfE published an initial response to the audit and a further update is awaited.
Requirement 4: Ensure public confidence in its data governance procedures, by publishing an update on progress with meeting the recommendations of the ICO audit that relate to the Code of Practice for Statistics and providing assurance that all data governance requirements are being adhered to.