Birmingham School Finder
Data Unlocked have long had our Schools Finder project that aims to improve the school admissions process here in Birmingham.
It allows you to put your address or post code in and from that it will create a map showing the cut off distances for schools in your area over the previous years. While it can’t tell you for definite that you will or won’t be successful, it helps parents and carers in their decision making by giving an indication of recent trends.
We are currently updating the Birmingham School Finder, so apologies for not being able to link to a live example, our current working copy has data up to 2014 and includes historic trends. It covers both primary and secondary school admissions.
As part of this work we have written a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. We did this after reading and using a fair few local authority school admission documents, comparing the information they contained.
We also think it makes sense for people to discuss and agree on what data is important, as well as what it means. To that end we also had discussions with parents and carers, staff in local authority admissions offices and other open data professionals about what data they thought was helpful when making decisions about school applications.
Our standard FoI request is below. You can also see it “in action” being used on What Do They Know to request admissions data from Birmingham City Council.
Dear Birmingham City Council,
I am interested in school level data for admissions into Birmingham schools through the annual secondary transfer process.
For each Birmingham school that you hold the data for I would like
Establishment Dfee number
Distance of last admitted pupil, where distance a factor – stating length measurement used (eg. metres, miles)
Breakdown of number of pupils admitted (broken down by criteria)
Total number of applications (broken down by choice)
Number of appeals heard
Number of appeals allowed
Published Admission Number
Number admitted to school
Number of pupils on roll – 11-16, 16-19
for the admission process for children entering secondary school in this academic year and for the previous two years.
I would like this to be in a format that can be re-used, preferably comma separated variable (csv) format.
Once this request has been completed I would like you to add the resulting dataset to the city’s publication scheme, and keep it up-to-date in the future.
Thank you in advance. I’m very happy to discuss and assist in the successful publication of the data I am requesting.
Standardising admissions data
Now, our FoI request is not a data standard. It is merely a list of data that we need to build the School Finder.
You can already access schools’ data in a standardised form published by the Department of Education. Ideally, we’d like admissions data to be added to this data release so that they are reported nationally, rather than locally, and use the same structure.
We know that we are by no means the only people using school admissions data. If you are, we’d be really interested in talking to you about what your data requirements are and how well met they are by our example FoI above. You are also welcome leave a response in the comments section below.
Advantages that we see to national, standardised admissions data include:
- For data publishers, such as local authorities, a single report that can be run that satisfies FoI requests
- For developers, such as ourselves, an easier way of accessing the data than going to individual authorities
- For parents and carers, a greater understanding of how the admissions process works and a better chance of making a successful application
- For schools, fewer appeals against admissions decisions where they don’t accept students into their school
We have signed up for the Data Standards for Social Impact event in London on the 30th October. There are a number of organisations presenting there who have created their own internationally recognised standards. There is a lot we can learn from such groups.
We would also be interested in a session at this weekend’s Open Data Camp in Belfast that discussed data standards in general and, if there is sufficient interest, admissions data in particular.