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Removal Of Pupil Mode Of Travel From National School Census

On the 29th July 2011 the Department for Education announced in the pages of issue no. 50 of the Information about children, education and schools (ICES) e-bulletin that they had unilaterally decided to remove the Pupil Usual Mode of Travel data field from the national school census with immediate effect. This was much to the surprise of ourselves and other providers of data analysis services, not to mention all other government departments, local authorities and schools who were reliant on the data for many of their own strategic planning and operational purposes. In this section of the website we do our best to get to the bottom of this uncharacteristically swift action by the DfE, and the reaction of the school travel community to it.

In this section you can view / download the following documents:-

Update: On the 2nd of February 2012 The Department for Transport invited interested parties from local and central government (but sadly not the providers of data analysis services used by government!) to a round-table discussion on the possible way forward for the continued collection of mode of travel data from schools on a national basis. The general consensus of the meeting was that it was impossible for this data to be collected on a national basis outside of school census within the resources and timeframe available, and that the simplest solution all round was that the Department for Education should re-instate the mode of travel into the school census but make it a voluntary field (ie. if it's filled in it's collected during the automatic data upload process, if it's not it's left blank but its absence doesn't cause any data integrity problems further down the line). Despite this being not at all technically difficult to do, and that schools will continue to collect the data from their pupils anyway becasue their information management system still allows them to and it's collection often is part of classroom lessons, the DfE steadfastly refuse to do this and are unlikely to change their mind. Thus despite the contention from DfE that removal of mode of travel from school censsus will reduce bureaucracy in schools, it will lead to a dramatic increase in bureaucracy for those schools and local authorities that still wish to collect the data because they realise the value of knowing how their pupils travel to school and how far they travel to get there.

Despite all of these "shenanigans at the centre" we continue to offer the School Travel Health Check Service to all interested local authorities. Even in the absence of mode of travel there is much information of use for school travel planning purposes that can be derived from spatial analysis of school census data.

STHC Briefing Paper On The Sudden Announcement By DfE That The Pupil’s Usual Mode Of Travel Field Is No Longer To Be Collected As Part Of The School Census (2nd August 2011) (.pdf, 0.1 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

This paper contains the “facts” of the matter around the announcement as far as could be gleaned from the DfE website at the time, and was the basis for the ModeShift briefing paper sent round the school travel community. The hope was that it contained enough background information, direct quotes and points of contact to enable all the stakeholders who currently benefit from the collection of mode of travel data through National School Census to successfully engage with officials within DfE, and the relevant Minister For Schools (one Nick Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis in West Sussex), to get this decision reversed. According to DfE officials these changes were all happening at the insistence of the minister, which presumably is why they had been implemented unilaterally, without any exteranl consultation with the local authority active and sustainable travel community, and against long established departmental procedures controlling changes to the contents of the School Census (ie. the so called "Star Chamber Scrutiny Board").

Information about children, education and schools (ICES) e-bulletin #49 (June 2011) (.pdf, 0.1 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

The June edition of the official DfE technical bulletin which, in its article reviewing proposed changes to the School Census, does not even mention that removal of the "Pupil Usual Mode of Travel field" was even being considered or that there was a "comprehensive root and branch review" of the school census taking place.

Information about children, education and schools (ICES) e-bulletin #50 (July 2011) (.pdf, 0.1 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

The July edition of the official DfE technical bulletin which announced that, not only had the "Pupil Usual Mode of Travel field" now been removed from the School Census but also that the alterations to the technical specs for the school information management systems had already been implemented by the software vendors.

ModeShift Briefing Paper For Local Authorities On The Removal Of Pupil Mode Of Travel From National School Census (August 2011) (.pdf, 0.2 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

Modeshift is the national membership organisation that specialises in active and sustainable travel and provides behaviour change support for those working with children, young people, families, school communities and educational establishments. This briefing paper was produced by them and circulated round the local authority active and sustainable travel community to raise awareness of the DfE removal of Usual Pupil Mode of Travel from School Census. As mentioned already this action was taken suddenly and unilaterally by DfE without any external consulation (certainly not via their official bulletin anyway) so many local authorities were unaware of it.

ModeShift Press Release On The Removal Of Pupil Mode Of Travel From National School Census (25th August 2011) (.pdf, 0.3 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

Once again Modeshift endeavour to get the word out.

ModeShift Letter To Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP (26th August 2011) (.pdf, 0.1 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

ModeShift put the national case for re-instatement of Mode of Travel to Schools Census to the Schools Minister.

Dorset County Council Letter To Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP (25th August 2011) (.pdf, 0.1 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

Dorset County Council, (one of our STHC authorities) put the local case for re-instatement of Mode of Travel to Schools Census to the Schools Minister.

STHC Letter To Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP (13th September 2011) (.pdf, 0.3 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

Our frankly "bloody livid" letter putting the case for re-instatement of Mode of Travel to Schools Census to the Schools Minister from the data services industry perspective. Our main points were:-

  • Lack of transparency or open-ness - There seems little point in having well advertised, apparently stringently applied, school census data collection policies & procedures, developed by data management professionals over several years, if they are going to be ignored just because the new minister thinks “wouldn’t it be a good idea if ….. “. The Star Chamber Secretariat have been unable to provide the written business case that, according to the official DfE data collection policy guidelines, must always be submitted before a decision on any change to the school census can be made. This lack of open-ness flies in the face of the Prime Ministers assertions that his is one of the most “open, accountable and transparent governments there is” when it comes to data - well according to his recent speech on the Data.gov website anyway!
  • Lack of consultation with data stakeholders, especially end users - We have developed the STHC service over the last 5 years in partnership with local authority end users and with the full knowledge of the DfE Travel To School Initiative Board. By 2011 we had processed over 3 million pupil mode of travel records from over 4,800 UK schools - some 22% of the LEA controlled schools in England. I think we can therefore safely claim to be a major stakeholder and end user of school census data. However the first we, or any of our 29 local authority clients, knew about any change to mode of travel data collection was a “fait accompli” announcement that it was going to be dropped from the national school census , and the SIMS software supplier specifications had already been changed.
  • Lack of consultation with, and regard for, the Data Services industry - SME’s such as ourselves are the backbone of the UK “knowledge economy”, one of the things that is apparently going to pull this country out of recession. Using our specialist skills and resources that are usually not available “in-house” to many organisations, we build targeted information products and services on the back of the bewildering deluge of available data. However no matter how innovative and well received those products are, there is little long term future for SMEs like us investing all our time and financial resources developing them in collaboration with one part of government, if another part of government is going to pull the rug out from underneath us, without any prior warning and apparently acting on a ministerial whim.
    We have existing local authority clients who have already commissioned the STHC from us right up to 2012-13, how are we to provide them with the service they have paid for if there isn’t any data to analyse? How is this decision going to save them money?
    We are also currently in talks with the Department of Health to develop the STHC to meet the needs of the Directors of Public Health now coming into local authorities. How are we going to grow our business to support the publicly stated government agenda if there is an axe hanging over the core analysis dataset
  • Lack of publicity - For what is effectively a major u-turn in government data collection policy, it smacks of trying to sneak things through “on the quiet” to announce it only via a monthly, technical e-bulletin, and then as a “fait accompli”. Note that the previous month’s (June) edition gave no indication that the removal of the Mode of Travel field was even being considered in an article outlining, bullet point by bullet point, the proposed changes to the 2011-12 school census
  • Unseemly haste - Piecing together the trail of various DfE communications over the last few weeks would indicate that the entire process - from first “why don’t we …?” thought out of nowhere by somebody within DfE, to the “limited” internal consultation, to the final decision, to the uncharacteristic, last minute re-issuing of official technical guidance to SIMS software suppliers - happened in less than 4 weeks. Now that’s fast for any organisation let alone the leviathan that is the Department for Education! Anyone might think that the Minister for Schools or one of his close advisors almost had a personal vendetta against mode of travel data!
  • Going against the tide of national “public good” data initiatives - There are many “public good” national data initiatives going on right now that we and the rest of the spatial data community are doing our best to help facilitate – Open Data, Data.gov, the European INSPIRE directive on environmental data, the UK Location Program to name but a few. Your department is even actively participating in some of these – I note that school level census data is available to be downloaded from the Data.gov website.
    You will know then that at their heart, these initiatives are all about “joining up” data (government collected or otherwise) and using it in new and innovative ways to help tackle the complex issues of the world. “Collect once, use many times for as many different purposes as possible” is just plain, common sense. It is widely recognised that not only will this enable better, evidence-based formulation and execution of government policy, but it will actually make government as a whole more efficient and save us all money in the longer term. Thus this decision to no longer collect at a national level a core dataset that is key to tackling issues of national interest like child obesity and climate change, is ill-founded and a serious step backwards for the UK.

Letter Of Reply From The Education Minister (23rd September 2011) (.pdf, 0.5 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file. Note this file was produced by scanning the paper letter so the text is not selectable.

This is the reply from the Start Chamber Secretariat on behalf of the minister. Apart from changing a couple of words it is the same reply that went out to the local authorities that wrote to him and does not address any of our points above on the lack of transparency or following existing departmental procedures with regard to changes to school census.

STHC Letter to Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk MP (14th September 2011) (.pdf, 0.3 MB)

Click on the link above or the image opposite to download the document as a pdf file.

Alas we received no response from the Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills on our specific points about the anti-business way in which the DfE have gone about this process.