Research initiative harnesses linked government data to improve children’s services

Around two million attainment records from an extract of the National Pupil Database, which includes KS4 and KS5 qualifications, have been matched to the Census data, producing a significant sample size for analysis. 

This innovative new data linkage will enable researchers to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how household characteristics shape children’s outcomes, to give policymakers valuable evidence for developing services that work better for children. 

Initial analysis of the linked data is already being taken forward by the ONS’s Centre for Equalities and Inclusion. The Children’s Commissioner for England is also undertaking a substantial piece of work seeking to improve measurement of the experiences, welfare and wellbeing of children, to which the linked data is central. 

The UK has a huge wealth of public sector data that is not routinely linked and shared for research. Where data is linked across different departments and authorities, important decisions can be made with a more complete understanding of how individual services interact with other areas of life. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)’s recent call for evidence for a National Data Strategy (to which ADR UK has responded) demonstrates a growing realisation of the importance of harnessing the potential of this invaluable data resource to improve lives. 

Data sourced by ADR UK is held and made available to accredited researchers in anonymised form via ONS’s Secure Research Service (SRS). Only research projects which are feasible, legal, ethical and in the public interest are approved. The anonymised data is then accessed in a secure physical facility or through a secure connection to it, with all research outputs checked before they leave the secure environment to ensure that the confidentiality of individuals is maintained. 

By providing a safe and secure environment for linked, anonymised data to be analysed by leading researchers, ADR UK is helping to break down the barriers to better sharing of data across government. This newly linked dataset is only one example of the work underway. 

ADR UK’s new website launches today at adruk.org, showcasing the initiative’s broader work linking public sector data for research in the public interest.

Emma Gordon, Director of ADR UK, said: "Administrative data has huge potential to drive improvements in both policy and public services. This linkage between educational attainment and Census data for England is really exciting, because of the breadth of research questions that can be answered using it. It is also the first linked dataset created for researchers to apply to use via the ONS Secure Research Service, as part of the ADR UK programme. 

"This newly linked dataset will help policymakers, working in collaboration with researchers, ensure that there are more insights available into the lives of children, providing the evidence needed to develop services that enable all children to thrive. As Director of ADR UK, I’m delighted that we’ve been able to work with ONS and DfE to develop this, and I look forward to seeing the results of research using the data"

Leon Feinstein, Director of Evidence at the Children’s Commissioner’s Office, said: "This new linked data provides a tremendous opportunity to improve society’s knowledge of levels of vulnerability and need amongst children in England and the UK, and to use this to improve policy and practice in the interests of children. The Children’s Commissioner is delighted to be helping in steering and accelerating this important work."

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