New rounding and suppression approach (further education and essential skills)

DfE outlines the new rounding and suppression approach to official statistics on FE sector activity and essential skills.

In recent months, we have received several detailed requests in relation to equality, diversity, inclusion and widening participation. In addition, we recognise that the inclusive growth pillar within the Department for the Economy’s 10X economic vision and related skills strategy will require more detailed information on the participation and achievements of particular groups that may experience disadvantage. Attempting to meet these similar, though not identical, user needs may pose additional statistical disclosure, utility and comparability issues.


In our approach to publishing official statistics, our aim is to strike an optimum balance between publishing (a) figures for as many relevant groups of interest as possible and (b) figures our users will find useful for establishing baselines and tracking progress over time on a consistent basis.

To date, our tertiary education statistical outputs relating to equality categories and characteristics relevant to disadvantage have tended to focus on participation of students, rather than on their achievements. Switching to the production of detailed statistics on both participation and achievement, particularly if ‘sliced and diced’ in different ways, could pose additional statistical disclosure and utility issues, especially for those students with rarer characteristics within personal / special data categories. Alongside this, we hope to produce a wider range of comparable statistics in relation to participation and achievement in higher education, regardless of whether that provision is within higher education institutions (HEIs) or in the further education (FE) sector.

HESA requirements

Although we follow the requirements of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in relation to rounding and suppression in our HEI sector activity analyses, with the exception of some performance statistics and the level of detail we include in single tables, to date, we have tended not to apply rounding and suppression to the FE sector activity analyses we publish.

Consistent approach

To address the combined issues of statistical disclosure, utility and comparability, we feel it is now appropriate to adopt a consistent approach to our published analyses of student activity across the HEI and FE sectors. By applying HESA’s rounding approach to official statistics on FE Sector Activity and Essential Skills, including HE-in-FE, we are seeking to balance the risk of users being able to work out real un-rounded figures against our ability to publish useful statistics. As a result, we believe that what some users might lose in terms of exact (primarily small) numbers should be compensated adequately through the availability of a wider range of comparable statistics on the participation and achievements of tertiary education students, including for relatively small groups.

In practice, this new rounding and suppression approach will mean:

  •  all counts will be rounded to the nearest multiple of 5
  • any number lower than 2.5 will be rounded to 0
  • halves will be rounded upwards (for instance, 2.5 to 5)
  • percentages (based on unrounded counts) will be rounded to the nearest integer
  • percentages based on fewer than 22.5 enrolments or people will be suppressed
  • averages will not be published if based on 7 or fewer enrolments or people
  • counts will not always add up to published totals.
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