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Linked education data opens up new research opportunities

18 July 2019

New datasets have just been released, linking education data, including GCSE exam results, to the records of Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) participants based in England.

Pupils studying

This new information, produced by UCL Institute of Education’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), will allow researchers to more accurately study how pupils born at the turn of this century have progressed through school, including the factors associated with different academic trajectories and attainment. It will be uniquely placed to provide insight into how people from different backgrounds across the country fare in England’s education system today.

The MCS study team worked with the Department for Education (DfE) to securely link the National Pupil Database (NPD) data to cohort members’ survey data.

Cohort members’ parents had been asked for consent to link the NPD education records to their children’s MCS survey data when they were growing up. In England, 94 per cent agreed. Key Stage 1 and 2 test results were first linked in 2012. The new data linkage, which includes GCSE exam results, means researchers will be able to explore detailed information on cohort members’ progress through schools in England, from reception to year 11.

Other NPD pupil-level data in the new datasets includes information on absences, ethnicity, languages spoken at home, special educational needs, and eligibility for free school meals. This is included in the School Census data on pupils attending maintained schools.

In addition, school-level data from Local Education Authority School Information Service (LEASIS) files has been linked to the study, covering the type of school the cohort member attended, the percentage of pupils on free school meals and the percentage of pupils with special needs at their school. School level variables have been derived allowing researchers to identify which schools had changed their Unique Reference Number between years and the reasons for that change.

Professor Emla Fitzsimons, Director of MCS, said: “Education researchers and policymakers can now track the performance of a generation of young people in England across much of their school lives. Linking this education data to MCS provides a unique resource for the study of a wide range of topics, for instance, the links between early childhood, family background and education trajectories, and the interplay between education and other aspects of people’s lives such as mental health and wellbeing.

“This new linked data will help to improve the scope and quality of education-related research, which will have the potential to benefit policy and practice, and ultimately current and future school pupils.”

Cohort members’ survey data and linked education records are anonymised and can be accessed securely by bona fide, registered researchers through the UK Data Service (UKDS).

These newly released datasets relate to cohort members in England only, but work is ongoing to also link education data to the survey data of cohort members in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Key Stage 1 test scores have already been linked for Scotland and Wales, and these datasets are available to researchers now. Plans are in place to link Key Stage 2 test scores and GCSE exam results for these cohort members.

This latest development is part of a wider programme of data linkage work under way at CLS, which runs the MCS and three other cohort studies – the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study, and Next Steps.

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