Tag Archives: Freedom of Information

School exam statistics – state secrets?

This is a story about how I tried – and failed – to get some data about top performing GCSE students and girls doing STEM-related A levels. The story highlights weaknesses in the Department for Education but also in government statistics and their regulation systems more widely. The public deserves better. A report from the UK Statistics Authority on this quest was published today.

Exam success is key for a school pupil that wants to go to a leading university, on their way to a top job. As the AS levels will soon be a thing of the past, GCSEs are vital in that journey. Yet information about what sort of pupils from which type of schools in different parts of the country get the all-important top grade GCSEs (or study combinations of STEM-related A levels) is largely a mystery as the government denies access to the full set of school-level exam results. Continue reading School exam statistics – state secrets?

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Survey response rates – look down!

Response rates to surveys are declining. Fast. New sources, such as big data or administrative data, or making survey response compulsory, are no longer an optional extra. They need to be discussed now as a way to boost the quality of and restore credibility to the nation’s key figures. The rise in employment and the fall in earnings defined the economy of the last Parliament. As survey response rates fall below 50%, there is a chance that those trends which never gelled to give a coherent picture are some way from reality.

Continue reading Survey response rates – look down!

The Minister’s speech – #opendata

The Cabinet Office Minister, Matt Hancock MP, spoke about data-driven government at the Open Data Institute (ODI) summit this week. It was in many ways an inspiring speech – it had an optimistic, positive tone and was full of ambition. It was, however, short on action and pledges. Against the background of government support for various groups linked to open data being withdrawn and concerns arising about the future of FoI, this glimpse of policy gives little hope of a much brighter future for open data.  Continue reading The Minister’s speech – #opendata

Big, open and admin – what’s what for government statistics?

The Bean Review of government statistics will assess what the public sector data machine needs to make it fit for purpose for the next decade or two. The regulatory framework and outputs are part of that but at the core is a question about sources: how can big data, open data and administrative data help deliver more and new accurate statistics, in a more timely fashion and for less money. This note tries to unravel what these terms might mean for the Government Statistical Service (GSS). It concludes that there is an imperative to investigate the possibilities and that the Bean review can ensure that the required development work is supported at the highest level in government.  Continue reading Big, open and admin – what’s what for government statistics?

FoI Commission – Good for Stats?

The statistics community must shout loud in the debate about Freedom of Information reform or access to data could be set back a generation. There are accepted rules and practices relating to transparency and openness of data and the Government and civil service are on a path to fulfilling them.

The Government can achieve what it wants from its review of the Freedom of Information Act – to make a “safe space” and keep secret some advice it receives – while making the foundations on which policy is made more transparent.

The news of the review was, understandably, received negatively but there is hope for some positive outcomes. It is time for the UK Statistics Authority to lead.   Continue reading FoI Commission – Good for Stats?

Met Office – best in the world?

The rain was pouring down outside so Bank Holiday Monday was a good time to read the blog from Met Office Chief Scientist Professor Dame Julia Slingo OBE FRS in which she reflects on this summer’s weather. The title – “So what happened to our summer?” – gives away the sense of mild embarrassment about the poor predictions for July and August. The Met Office has lost the confidence of the BBC which has terminated the weather presenting contract. (This Met Office blog covers that and criticism of its apps.) Beyond the accuracy of its forecasting, I see evidence that the Met Office has confused governance, is not being very open with its data, not focusing on the public’s needs and opinions, setting itself lower targets for forecasting accuracy, and is becoming less transparent in its operations. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the organisation is being reviewed by Government, not least as they were given the go-ahead last year to spend £100m on a new computer.   Continue reading Met Office – best in the world?

Open data and freedom of information – an example

The mood music around the government’s announcement in mid-July that a commission will report to it in November on how to reform the FoIA has been greeted with almost universal concern and fear. But in the world of data and statistics – that is all the evidence used by policy makers and those in and out of government assessing policy – there is a great opportunity. Making more data open, leads to more accurate and useful data, improves policy making, enhances transparency, boosts the democratic process and reduces compliance costs associated with FoIA. Surely the commission and the government will see this virtuous circle and encourage more openness and greater efficiency from public sector bodies. Or does the government want to hide the basic data from us?   Continue reading Open data and freedom of information – an example