Support for development of Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data

Status: Active

The Department for Education’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes dataset provides transformational insights about pathways within and beyond education in England. Linking together administrative data from education, social care, and the labour market, it enables researchers to study people’s journeys through childhood and into adulthood. Its purpose is to enhance the life chances of current and future learners through improvement of the evidence base available to central and local government, the broader education system, and the public.

The Department for Education (DfE) makes a subset of its LEO and education data (which focusses on people that have been in education in England) available to external researchers through the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service. It is continually being developed with new data sources being linked in, which extends the opportunities to gain new insights to address important policy questions. However, the dataset is already vast and highly complex, and will become more so as new data is added. It contains information from a wide range of disparate sources, with huge numbers of variables and covers a long period of time. Researchers require a high degree of knowledge and skill to be able to understand, access and use the data.

More valuable insights can be extracted from the data more quickly and more effectively if the ‘skill-bar’ to work with the LEO data can be reduced, increasing the public value of the data.

This grant will enable Dr Claire Crawford from the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO) and a small team of researchers from CEPEO, the University of Warwick and the Institute for Fiscal Studies to work in partnership with the LEO Programme team in the Department for Education to help develop the LEO external access offer. This will encompass both the existing LEO via ONS Secure Research Service data and new data developments in the pipeline, with a particular focus on producing supporting materials for the linkages to the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) data and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data. Their support will enable DfE to make faster progress in reducing the LEO ‘skill-bar’ and in increasing consistency and reusability of LEO data.

The LEO Programme and how this project fits in

The LEO dataset currently links together education records (across schools, further education, and higher education) with tax and benefits records. It is built, owned and managed by the Department for Education but comprises data from departments including the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs, as well as other organisations such as Jisc (who provide the higher education data). Future developments will also see the inclusion of data from UCAS, amongst many others over time.

This project will enable researchers seconded into DfE from UCL and Warwick to work with DfE on its programme of iterative development of the LEO dataset which it makes available to external researchers. This will include:

  • broadening user guidance and enhancing metadata
  • sharing existing resources and creating new resources to support use of the data, including the creation of new derived variables and code
  • supporting the online LEO Research Community
  • creation and delivery of training materials and sessions
  • communicating and raising awareness about LEO data, access and benefits for the public
  • supporting the development of a low fidelity synthetic version of the LEO standard extract.

Potential of the LEO data, including new links to IDBR and UCAS data

This project aims to increase the number of researchers using LEO data to address a range of policy-relevant questions. The LEO data – and in particular the new links to IDBR and UCAS data, for which this project will initially develop supporting materials – has the potential to generate new evidence and inform decisions that improve people’s lives, around three key themes:

Access to opportunity: There are large differences in opportunities and outcomes between individuals from different backgrounds and growing up in different areas. Providing more resources to support new data users will enable more research documenting and exploring what drives these differences. Linking in additional data on university applications will also enable greater understanding of the role of individuals’ preferences in generating links between socioeconomic background, education choices, and later outcomes.

Productivity: UK productivity (Gross Domestic Product per hour) is estimated to be almost 20% below its largest competitors. By making it easier to work with the data on businesses, which DfE has incorporated into the LEO data through the creation and sharing of additional materials, this project will support researchers and policymakers to study the links between education, skills and productivity.

Addressing area-based inequality: Reducing inequalities by improving outcomes in poorer-performing locations is a high priority for the UK Government. This project will make it easier for researchers to explore what explains differences in outcomes between particular localities or types of areas by creating additional materials to support faster and more effective use of the data.

The researchers will also join DfE in working to generate greater awareness and public confidence in the vital contribution of LEO data in creating policy-relevant research and evidence-led policy action, and in the usefulness of linking administrative data more generally.

Key questions that can be answered faster and more effectively through the LEO via SRS service as a result of this project include:

  • How does accounting for university application choices affect estimated returns to higher education?
  • Are lower (contextual) university entry offers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds good for individuals and universities?
  • How do changes in the skill composition of co-workers in a business, or neighbours in a small area, affect the returns to skills for individuals and taxpayers?


LEO data is available now through the ONS Secure Research Service. Those wishing to access the data can apply via the ONS Research Accreditation Service. Read this guidance from the DfE for more information. 

Documentation, code, metadata and, where possible, synthetic data will additionally be made available to anyone interested in accessing the data through the LEO Research Community library.

Stakeholder engagement

There will be a large engagement effort accompanying the project. The project team will, under secondment to DfE’s LEO Programme team and through its separate research activity, consult and work with non-governmental organisations, research organisations, interest groups, funding bodies, and other charitable organisations. Research findings will be publicised and stakeholders will be kept regularly updated.

Project details

Project lead: Dr Claire Crawford

Funded value: £719,523 (FEC)

Duration: July 2022 – March 2026

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. Funding decisions were 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 for this project can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform.

Categories: Data linkage programmes, ADR England, Office for National Statistics, Children & young people, World of work

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