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.