More education data on the way: but is it a selective picture?
David Cameron has today written to cabinet colleagues today setting out plans for a next step in the open data agenda - asking for more datasets to be made available in a number of fields, including in education.
Cameron's letter mentions a number of new proposals for open Education and Skills data, calling for the following to be made available:
- Data enabling parents to see how effective their school is at teaching high, average and low attaining pupils across a range of subjects, to be published from January 2012
- Opening up access to anonymised data from the National Pupil Database to help parents and pupils to monitor the performance of their schools in depth, from June 2012. This will enable better comparisons of school performance and we will look to strengthen datasets in due course
- Bringing together for the first time school spending data, school performance data, pupil cohort data and Ofsted judgements, from January 2012, in a parent-friendly portal, searchable by postcode
- Data on attainment of students eligible for pupil premium to be published from January 2012
- Data on apprenticeships paid for by HM Government, by organisation and by success rate, to be published from July 2011.
An impressive list of new commitments, although if these are the only datasets on the agenda, one that might also raise a fear of selective transparency - focussing on data about particular policy issues only, rather than building an eco-system of education data all open by default.
It's notable that there is still no promise of an open EduBase, and the commitments seem to mix publishing raw data, and creating 'a parent-friendly portal', rather than unlocking the wealth of information in Ofsted reports that could be used for teachers learning (as discussed in the recent Education conference thread), and making pupil cohort data more easily accessible without requiring users to search 100s of spreadsheets. It will be interesting to see also whether that portal is commissioned through standard government procurement, or whether Cameron's government takes advantage of the real potential for open data to change the way procurement works.
With many actors in (perhaps unrealised) violent agreement that open data is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, for better democratic policy making, and improved public services, the response to a release of data that might create bias is clearly not to call for data to be closed again, but is for data holders, from local authorities to schools themselves, to think about proactively sharing additional data that presents the full richness of what education is and does...