ECHILD: Linking children’s health and education data for England

ECHILD stands for Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data. The study involves the linking of around 14 million children’s records, which will be used to better understand how education affects children’s health and how health affects children’s education.

The ECHILD project is led by University College London in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in partnership with NHS Digital and the Department for Education, working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The data

The ECHILD Database will bring together information about health, education and social care for all children in England for the first time. The project will link two key data sources:

  • The National Pupil Database (NPD) – which holds a wide range of information about students who attend schools and colleges in England.
  • Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) – which includes information on hospital admissions, A&E attendances and outpatient appointments in NHS hospitals in England. 

The ECHILD Database is de-identified: this means it does not contain any information that identifies an individual. For example, it does not include names, addresses, dates of birth, pupil or NHS numbers.

How is the ECHILD study using this newly linked data?

The ECHILD team are carrying out strategic research, based on a pilot linked NPD-HES dataset of two million children, to validate linkage and other aspects of data quality. This will produce resources and metadata for wider use of the ECHILD Database. The ECHILD project is also generating policy-relevant exemplar research.

The ECHILD Database will first be used to understand how disruptions to services during the national lockdown affected children’s health and education. The work will focus on children who require extra support, as they may have been most affected by the changes to services. This includes children with chronic physical and mental health conditions, receiving special educational needs support or who are in care. The results of this work will help policymakers and services make plans as we all learn to live with Covid-19.

What is the potential of this newly linked data?

The ECHILD Database will facilitate research to improve policymaking for children’s health, education and wellbeing across a range of health and social science disciplines. For example, the ECHILD Database could help to answer questions such as:

  • How can we improve health and education for children with chronic physical or mental health conditions in England?
  • How can we better understand the health-related drivers of educational outcomes in England?
  • How can we  improve the quality and equity of health and education provision in England?

The ECHILD Database will be made available to external researchers via the ONS Secure Research Service down the line. Researchers will need to be approved and submit a successful application to access the data. Check back here for more information about accessing the linked data as an approved researcher soon.

Engaging the public

The ECHILD team is working with patient, pupil, parent and public engagement groups to understand different views on the use of linked health, education and social care data for research. This includes getting valuable feedback on research plans for the ECHILD project. So far, the team has worked with the National Children’s Bureau Young Research Advisors; the National Children’s Bureau Families Research Advisory Group; and the Council for Disabled Children FLARE. You can find out more about this work, and what the team learned, on the ECHILD website.

Project details

NHS Digital is being funded to link and curate the ECHILD Database:

  • Principal investigator: Garry Coleman
  • Funding amount: £445,000
  • Duration: December 2019 to August 2021

The UCL research team is being funded to validate linkage and other aspects of data quality, develop ECHILD Database documentation and governance with data controllers, conduct research to demonstrate the value of the ECHILD Database for policy and lead a programme of public engagement:

  • Principal investigator: Professor Ruth Gilbert, University College London
  • Funding amount: £334,509
  • Duration: May 2020 – October 2021

This project is funded via the ADR UK Strategic Hub Fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data, in consultation with the Research Commissioning Board (RCB). Details of the funding grant awarded for this project can also be found on the UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is also funding the ECHILD project team to examine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown on vulnerable groups of children.

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