Longitudinal Educational Outcomes for Northern Ireland - a data linkage initiative

The Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) database enables research about career paths of individuals from school to work.

LEO database

Since 2015, England, Scotland and Wales have had the ability to chart the career paths of individuals from school to work. This ability to identify where people are at key transition phases provides very powerful evidence about the impact of policy and the direction of social and economic change. 

Questions about social inclusion, social mobility, what people can expect to earn given their educational and social backgrounds are of great importance. The Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) database enables research on these questions to be conducted.

LEO database for Northern Ireland 

There are legislative gateways that enable this work to be carried out in Great Britain but the legislative gateway to conduct this work in Northern Ireland is still being established and it is intended to create a prototype ‘LEO’ in Northern Ireland by the Spring of 2018.

This prototype will be managed under the protocols and procedures required by the UK Administrative Data Research Network. These can be found at the links given below. If the prototype is successful it will pave the way for a more long term database to be created under the legislative basis of the Digital Economy Act (2017).

Importantly, the database will be ‘de-identified’, that is, individuals will not be named and any identifiers such as national insurance numbers will be removed. These actions will be undertaken in a secure environment and DfE staff will not be involved in this process. This ensures that those conducting the analysis cannot link the information back to an individual.

Development of the prototype database

DfE Analytical Services Unit intends to develop a linked database of de-identified individuals using School, Further Education, Higher Education and Work/Unemployment data (HMRC and Department for Communities). Initially, this work will be done through an experimental Administrative Data Research Centre for Northern Ireland research project.

In order to create this database, the Department must comply with a number of physical security, ethical and legal requirements. The UK Administrative Data Research Network has established policies and procedures which are designed to protect the identity of individuals and DfE will have to demonstrate that all of these policies and procedures have been implemented. For example, DfE is required to provide information on which pieces of legislation provide the legal right to share and use individuals’ data and all researchers who access the de-identified dataset are required to undergo appropriate accreditation and training. 

The purpose of this project is to establish a similar system to that which already exists in England, Wales and Scotland and which allows the educational and career paths of individuals to be established at key points. For example, qualifications on leaving school, college or university and subsequent spells of work and unemployment.

In practice, the outcomes for groups of people (boys/girls; young adults; those from the most or least deprived areas; gender; religion; ethnicity etcetera) will be the focus of the research. This will help support the outcomes based approach of the Programme for Government.

LEO in England

The Longitudinal Educational Outcomes Study was formally established in 2015, when the passing of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act (2015) authorised the linkage of education data, benefits and training data and Revenue and Customs information for the purposes of assessing the effectiveness of educational provision. A series of experimental statistics releases followed in 2016. A list of publications conducted using the LEO Study is below:

Longitudinal Educational Outcomes in Northern Ireland

It is proposed that an experimental linkage of multiple administrative data sources will take place via the Administrative Data Research Centre for Northern Ireland. Projects submitted to the Administrative Data Research Centre are assessed by an independent, UK-level Approvals Panel against five criteria:

  • ethical review
  • potential privacy impact
  • feasibility
  • scientific merit  
  • potential public benefit

As part of establishing the feasibility of a project, the panel must be satisfied that there is no clear legal barrier to the proposed data sharing. We will not share or use data for research without the legal right to do so.

The research outputs from the experimental project will be published on the DfE website and presented to the public at seminars organised through DfE, NISRA, QUB, UU and NI Assembly’s Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series.

The findings of this research project will help policy makers assess the current effectiveness of government policy in Northern Ireland in terms of stated Programme for Government outcomes such as reducing economic inactivity, increasing the skills profile of the population, increasing the numbers of graduates moving into employment or further study and having more people working in better jobs. They will also help young people to better understand the benefits of different educational pathways in terms of employment and earnings outcomes.

The Digital Economy Act and Future Plans

The Digital Economy Act passed into law in Great Britain in 2017. It is expected to commence in Northern Ireland in the near future. This new legislation will help the UK use data for research effectively, safely and securely. The legislation permits government departments to share personal information for research purposes. In addition it regulates how the sharing of data is done through the introduction of a UK Statistics Authority Code of Practice and accreditation standards.

DfE intends to make use of this legislation to set up a Longitudinal Educational Outcomes database for the long term and in doing so will ensure that all aspects of the relevant Code of Practice are implemented and that protecting the confidentiality of individuals is at the heart of everything we do.

Public Engagement

A series of public seminars will take place explaining the background to the project. Further details will be made available via the DfE website in due course.

Contact Us

We welcome the views of the public on this proposed initiative. If you have any comments, or wish to make further enquiries please contact us at analyticalservices@economy-ni.gov.uk.  

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