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

Status: Active

ECHILD stands for Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data. The ECHILD database will link records for around 20 million children, and has the potential to generate insights into how education affects children’s health and how health affects children’s education. First funded in December 2019, the project is now in its third round of funding.

ECHILD currently uses de-identified data about children from schools, hospitals and children’s social care. However, some adding some key information could further enhance the dataset. For example, including de-identified information on maternal characteristics – such as age, education and health needs – could help inform the best ways to support young adults in becoming parents and giving their child the best start in life. De-identified information on household characteristics – such as number of siblings, overcrowding or air pollution – could provide evidence for policymakers on the impact of these factors on health and education, within households and across different household members.

During this grant, the project team aims to further develop the ECHILD database by adding in maternal and household information.

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 the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, working with NHS England and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The data

Currently, ECHILD brings together information about health, education and social care for all children in England. It links two key data sources:

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

In this round of funding, the project team aims to add maternal information, such as age and health needs, linked to birth records for individuals in ECHILD. Additional health data sources will also be linked, including mental health data, maternity data, and community services data.

The team also aims to scope the requirements for linking Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) to ECHILD. This would add information about household and environmental characteristics such as number of siblings, overcrowding or air pollution.

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.

Potential of the newly linked data

The ECHILD research database is designed to facilitate research to improve policymaking for children’s health, education and wellbeing across a range of health and social science disciplines.

Research consistently demonstrates strong influences of parental physical health and family characteristics on child outcomes. Consultations with government and the third sector have highlighted that information on parent and family characteristics is critically important for policies and services supporting vulnerable families. However, population-level data linking parental and family characteristics with children’s health outcomes is lacking.

In enhancing the ECHILD database, this project aims to address this need by providing a way for researchers to identify and take into account disadvantage in children. For example, adding a mother-baby link will link de-identified children’s data to information about exposure to specific adverse childhood experiences, such as domestic violence. This offers the opportunity for researchers to explore the impact of these experiences on children’s outcomes.

Scoping the requirements for adding UPRNs to ECHILD is a first step towards generating a wide range of measures of household disadvantage, including overcrowding and access to green space. This has the potential to inform policy and practice that better meets the needs of children and families.

Key questions these newly linked datasets could help to address include:

  • What are the characteristics and health outcomes for children placed in social care out of the local authority area compared with those placed closer to home?
  • Do children and young people with serious learning impairing conditions have lower rates of emergency hospital admission if they attend a special school than if they attend a mainstream school?
  • Does poor attainment or frequent absences during secondary school predict risk-taking behaviour, or early pregnancy?
  • Are hospital contacts for health problems during pregnancy associated with child health and education outcomes?
  • What is the association between children and young people’s relative academic position within their school and the development of mental health problems, spanning from the end of primary school through to early adulthood?


The ECHILD research database will be made available to external researchers via the ONS Secure Research Service. Researchers will need to be accredited and have their application approved by the Research Accreditation Panel to access the data.

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.

In August 2021, a report highlighting key messages from government and third sector stakeholders on the potential of the ECHILD database was also published. Read the report.

Current grant details

  • Project lead: Professor Katie Harron
  • Funded value: £271,850
  • Duration: August 2022 – August 2024

This project is funded via the ADR UK research-ready data and access fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data. The funding decision was based on advice from an independent expert panel, and in consultation with the ONS. This project is part of the ADR England portfolio.

Details of the funding grant awarded by ADR UK to UCL for this project can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform. 

You can find out more about the project on the ECHILD website.

Previous grant details

NHS Digital was funded to link and curate the ECHILD database:

  • Principal investigator: Garry Coleman
  • Funding amount:  £368,572
  • Duration: December 2019 to March 2022

The UCL research team was 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: £334,509.28
  • Duration: May 2020 – March 2022

How has ECHILD data been used so far?

The ECHILD team have carried out strategic research to validate linkage and evaluate other aspects of data quality. This has produced resources and metadata for wider use of the data.

The ECHILD project is also generating policy-relevant exemplar research. For example, ECHILD has been used to understand the links between gestational age at birth and outcomes at school age. ECHILD has also been used to understand how disruptions to services during the national lockdown affected children’s health. This work focused 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, those receiving special educational needs support or who are in care. The results of this work will help policymakers and services make plans as we recover from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Grant achievements:

During this period, the project team published a range of outputs:

  • Mc Grath-Lone L, Etoori D, Gilbert R, Harron K, Woodman J, Blackburn R. Changes in adolescents’ planned hospital care during the COVID-19 pandemic: analysis of linked administrative data. Arch Dis Child 2022; Online First: 16 May 2022. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2021-323616
  • Libuy N, Gilbert R, Mc Grath-Lone L, Blackburn R, Etoori D, Harron K. Gestational age at birth, chronic conditions, and school outcomes: a population-based data linkage study of children born in England.  Int J Epidemiol 2022; 2022 May 19;dyac105. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyac105
  • McGrath-Lone L, Libuy N, Harron K, Jay M, Wijlaars L, Etoori D, Gilbert R, Blackburn R. Data Resource Profile: The Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data (ECHILD) Database. Int J Epidemiol 2021; dyab149,
  • Libuy N, Gilbert R, Harron K, Caulton R, Cameron E, Blackburn R. Linking administrative education data to hospital data for four national cohorts of school pupils in England: methodology and evaluation of linkage quality. Int J Pop Data Sci 2021; 6(1)

In August 2021, a report highlighting key messages from government and third sector stakeholders on the potential of the ECHILD database was also published. Read the report.

This project was funded via the ADR UK Strategic Hub Fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data, in consultation with the former 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) also provided funding for the ECHILD project team to examine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown on vulnerable groups of children.

Categories: Data linkage programmes, Research using linked data, ADR England, Office for National Statistics, Children & young people, Health & wellbeing

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