https://data.blog.gov.uk/2016/11/29/the-register-of-schools-in-england-goes-into-alpha/

The register of schools in England goes into alpha

Last year the Data Leaders Network proposed that education should be one of the five areas we should focus on in developing the first tranche of registers. School-related data in particular is widely used, by a large and varied number of service providers, and so the benefit of an authoritative list with a data model that reflects the needs of these users was very clear. So I’m excited to be able to share the alpha register of schools in England that the Department for Education (DfE), with our support, has been working on.

We’d love to know what you think

For those of you who have followed the countries, territories and English local authorities registers through the creation process, you’ll know that the alpha phase for registers is all about feedback: feedback on the data model of this particular register and also feedback on how easy (or not) it was to access and use the data itself. So we’re really keen to hear from users of school-related data to get your opinion.

We know from earlier releases of alpha registers that people are keen to understand the rationale for the fields within a register so we updated all register pages with a history page.  Here’s a link to the alpha school register’s history page.

In giving your feedback please be aware that, as we’re in alpha, some of the links between the school register and other registers in our pipeline are not as easily navigable as they will be when our work is completely finished. However, these links still indicate the direction we’re heading in and help us identify the registers we could be working with DfE on next.

Putting registers to use

Registers are valuable in and of themselves as trustworthy, up-to-date sources of information, and that value is compounded when we make it easier to link them to data in different registers. But the tangible value they provide to citizens and businesses comes from the services that can then be built by public and private sector providers. Registers help them build their services on datasets that are updated often, and automatically, by custodians.

To show what this means in practice we put together a demo of a school finder service. This demo uses data from a number of registers to make it easy for users to find out about the schools that exist in a particular area. We’ve only included the data for one county's schools in our alpha because, given it’s an alpha, we’re keen to get feedback on the the shape of the register rather than the data itself, and we wanted to do that sooner rather than later. But more will follow!

Feedback from users, especially those looking to build services, will mean that the right data will get into the register right from the start. In other words, the data model will be shaped as much by the domain expertise of its custodian, Andrew Thomson, as it will be by the users and makers of services with the contextual knowledge of how they put register data to work. In an earlier post, we talked about how registers fit into a wider digital ecosystem. For that to work people need to be able to build things with registers, and our hope is that there will be a number of products and services springing up as a result of what we have done.

So what happens next?

Registers make it easier to access to data and, what’s more, reduce duplication and promote the re-use of the authoritative data. For example, the school register for England links to the local authority and address registers maintained by organisations outside of DfE and also the registers of school trusts and school admission policies within DfE. This linking will become even more valuable as DfE develops the other registers in their pipeline, such as the university and qualification registers.

Not only is the result more accurate data, because these linked registers are updated at source by custodians with the necessary domain knowledge to verify that information, but we can also minimise DfE’s data collection and maintenance efforts because they can focus exclusively on the data within their domain.

Because the alpha currently only includes school data from Hertfordshire, we’re continuing to work with DfE on pulling together data for the rest of the country and linking those entries to the relevant registers in the ecosystem. Like the feedback loops registers bring, linking registers is a way of moving the burden for keeping data fresh and accurate from the custodian to a multilateral process.

So the register of schools in England is particularly interesting because educational data is pervasive and allows us to explore the implications with a number of links to multiple other registers. It is just the beginning of a much, much bigger project.

2 comments

  1. Robert Whittaker

    I currently make use of Schools date from Edubase (and equivalent Scotland and NI sources) to help volunteers improve the coverage of schools in OpenStreetMap (OSM). The tools I have developed can be viewed online at http://robert.mathmos.net/osm/schools/ . Essentially I grab data from Edubase and from OSM and compare the two to highlight unmapped schools and other discrepancies, which local mappers might then want to investigate. My comments below are therefore biased towards this use of the data.

    1/ Having this data in a register would make life easier for me, as updates could be automated more easily than the current method of having to download an Edubase extract. The ability to script the download and have confidence that the format will remain consistent would be great benefits. (Actually Edubase isn't too bad in this respect, but the equivalent Scotland and NI datafiles are much harder to obtain and work with. Hopefully their data would be included in similar registers too.)

    2/ I presume that the "address" field is a UPRN, which should link to a separate address register. It took a while to find this, but it's apparently at https://address.discovery.openregister.org/ . Given OS and Royal Mail IP rights, it's interesting that you have this data here, even though it's limited to the schools in the alpha. Is the address and location data in the address register really available under the OGL as you state?

    3/ Unless/until the address register exists and is open data, then I must object strongly to any reliance on this from other registers. It is inappropriate to take the existing Edubase data with addresses/locations, and subsume this into a register where the address data is not freely available. As well as only being in discovery, the current address register setup is missing postcodes.

    4/ This may be off-topic, but I am not convinced that the address register's current model of name -> street -> place -> country is flexible enough to handle all UK address properly. Also, there's no obvious place for the postcode in this model, which is problematic.

    5/ I see that you have decided to drop the reason for closure and related fields from the register. This is fair enough, but one feature I rely on is the "parent" and "child" relations currently in Edubase. Edubase IDs appear to change if a school changes its status or splits/merges. There needs to be a way to track such relationships within the register eco-system. For a single school getting a new ID, can this be done by just updating the id in the record/entry, or can the ID not be changed ID? In any case I think you'll need the parent child relations for mergers/splits.

    6/ It is vital that any work done on registers for England is rapidly replicated for the other devolved administrations. I appreciate it's easiest to sort things out for England first, but I would hope that you're already in discussions with Scotland and Northern Ireland's Education people about setting up equivalent registers for them -- not least to ensure that the England setup is flexible enough to cover their needs too, so you will be able to use an identical setup for their registers.

    7/ In terms of data architecture, I don't think that "school-type:X" values belong in the "organisation" field. Surely school-type should be its own field in the school-eng register, and for Independent schools, the "organisation" entry can just be empty. (Although perhaps it should actually link to the registered company/charity that runs the school in two obviously-needed-but-yet-to-be-created registers).

    8/ Postal address aside, all other contact details are also missing from the register, making it of little practical use for most people interested in schools. You could argue that DfE aren't an authoritative source for this information, but surely they should still be responsible for maintaining a list (i.e. a register) of it. Email address, phone number, and website needs to be recorded in the register system somewhere in order that it's accessible to users. (Such information is no more ephemeral than the head teacher values.)

    9/ If the register will eventually replace Edubase, I think that either GDS or the DfE should create an official "School Information" page for each school, along the lines of https://openregister-school-demo.herokuapp.com/schools/117111 but containing all the relevant linked data, and there should also be a way to bulk download this together, to make it easier for users than having to obtain all the register info separately.

    For instance, in my use, I would want Edubase id's, names, websites and postcodes. But using the register ecosystem, I would either need to download the whole of the address registers (a massive download once they are fully populated) or make multiple queries of the address, street, and place registers for each of the schools individually to fetch their address details (far too many requests). Some sort of combined register view (a query or 'super-register' maybe) is needed to address this. Better still if this combined view could include England, Scotland and Northern Ireland data all together.

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    • Richard Vale

      Hi Robert,

      The Edubase/OSM tool is very interesting! The goal of registers is to improve the trust which can be placed in government data - both inside and outside of government itself. In this case we're not replacing Edubase, rather starting with the core data needed by other registers.

      The school-eng register and associated registers are in alpha, which is a phase designed for soliciting feedback on their shape, so we'd like to thank you for taking the time to send us your notes which we have found very useful.

      1/ and 6/ Yes, as you realise, DfE are responsible for schools in England and so the register is for schools in England only. We are working with the devolved administrations about establishing separate registers for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These registers should be consistently shaped, but may differ in some of the fields due to differences in how schools are managed by different administrations.

      2/ The "address" field is a UPRN. The discovery registers are highly experimental - they're how we learn. And whilst we work in the open, discovery registers are subject to change without notice. We'd advise strongly against relying upon them until they reach beta status.

      3/ Understood on the point re objecting to open registers depending upon data which isn't open. This is an important issue. Government is currently developing options for the creation of an open address register.

      4/ The model follows the existing model used in the LLPG/NLPG, which works for UK addresses. It's possible to add postcodes and other data at some point in the future.

      5/ Understood about the relationships between schools and closures. This is a complex area we've elected to remove from the alpha, but which may be added later, once we're more confident of the needs and the process for managing the data.

      7/ Agreed, we're looking at ways of moving the "school-type:X" values out of the "organisation" field.

      8/ Other information can be linked to the register, either in other registers or content linking to the register.

      9/ We anticipate the register data to appear in multiple services and bulk datasets, and for other platforms to emerge for querying data held across multiple registers. The primary purpose of the register is to increase the trust which can be placed in the core data, in particular when linked to by other registers.

      Thanks!

      Richard

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