Longitudinal changes in the demographics of ‘school commuting’

The request was successful.

Dear Department for Education,

I’m undertaking research into the longitudinal changes in demographics of ‘school commuting’ and would like to request information from the school censuses about pupils home addresses in a suitably summarised and anonymised format.
I’d like this to be based on the most recent census (1 October 2015) and, for comparison, data from 2005 and 1995 to build up a 20 year picture of any variations. If records don’t go back that far I’m open to suggestions as to alternative information which could help understand long term trends.
For each of these censuses I’d like to know the home location of pupils at all English secondary schools. On checking the Information Commissioner’s guidance https://ico.org.uk/media/1061/anonymisat... I feel that requesting the postal sector (the full post code minus the last two digits which contains approximately 2,600 households) would give me the level of detail I am seeking whilst protecting the identity of the individuals to whom it relates.
For each of the three years (1995, 2005, 2015) I’d like a record for each child attending a state funded English secondary schools containing two fields
<URN>,<postal sector of home address>
Alternatively, I would estimate the number of records could be reduced to approx one tenth by aggregation to these three fields:
<URN>,<postal sector of home address>,<count of pupils at this URN/postal sector>
As I’m interested in commuting the information should either exclude boarders or alternatively include a field added to show boarders/non-boarders. The information should be in a format which allows further processing such as CSV, ODF or an Excel spreadsheet.
I’d like to thank you very much in advance for preparing this information as there isn’t usually an opportunity to afterwards but please don’t hesitate to ask for any clarifications.

thanks

Yours faithfully,

James Coombs

Department for Education

Dear James

Reference: 2015-0054296

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 3rd December 2015 in which you specified:

I’m undertaking research into the longitudinal changes in demographics of ‘school commuting’ and would like to request information from the school censuses about pupils home addresses in a suitably summarised and anonymised format. I’d like this to be based on the most recent census (1 October 2015) and, for comparison, data from 2005 and 1995 to build up a 20 year picture of any variations. If records don’t go back that far I’m open to suggestions as to alternative information which could help understand long term trends.

For each of these censuses I’d like to know the home location of pupils at all English secondary schools. On checking the Information Commissioner’s guidance https://ico.org.uk/media/1061/anonymisat... I feel that requesting the postal sector (the full post code minus the last two digits which contains approximately 2,600 households) would give me the level of detail I am seeking whilst protecting the identity of the individuals to whom it relates.

For each of the three years (1995, 2005, 2015) I’d like a record for each child attending a state funded English secondary schools containing two fields <URN>,<postal sector of home address>

Alternatively, I would estimate the number of records could be reduced to approx one tenth by aggregation to these three fields - <URN>,<postal sector of home address>,<count of pupils at this URN/postal sector>

As I’m interested in commuting the information should either exclude boarders or alternatively include a field added to show boarders/non-boarders. The information should be in a format which allows further processing such as CSV, ODF or an Excel spreadsheet.

I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The Department holds the information you have requested with the exception of data for 1995 as School Census information is only available from 2001/02. However, the Department does not hold the information in the format that you have requested and we estimate that the cost of complying with your request in providing your required analysis would exceed the cost threshold applicable to central Government. This is £600 and represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days locating, retrieving and extracting the information. Under section 12 of the Act the Department is therefore not obliged to comply with your request and will not be processing it further.

However, if you were to make a new request for a narrower category of information or limit the scope of your request, the Department may be able to comply with your request within the cost limit, although I cannot guarantee that this will be the case.

It may help if I outline some possible ways of narrowing your request. As noted above, School Census information is not available for 1995 and you may decide to just conduct your research based on 2005 and 2015 data. However, you may wish to consider re-appraising your start year because from 2008/09 there is information about the distance in miles to the current school attended and to that of the nearest secondary school and this would negate the need for postal sector details of pupils although these could be considered if essential. In terms of boarders these should be identified as a zero distance if the school address is shown in the School Census return and these could be identified as such without actually excluding them.

Alternatively, you could consider submitting an application for data from the National Pupil Database (NPD) for the underlying pupil data which we would consider and should enable you to conduct your own analysis to obtain the information you require for your research. Details about applying for NPD data can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-pup...

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should make a complaint to the Department by writing to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter. Your complaint will be considered by an independent review panel, who were not involved in the original consideration of your request.

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the Department, you may then contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Yours sincerely

Richard Garbitz, National Pupil Database and Data Transparency Team

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Dear Richard,

Thanks very much for your helpful and detailed reply explaining what information the DfE hold and making suggestions for reducing the scope. For the benefit of anyone else viewing this request I've made a new request available on this link:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

Thanks

Yours faithfully,

James Coombs

Department for Education

Dear Mr Coombs,
Thank you for your request for information which was received on 16 January 2016. I am dealing with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
In order to take your request forward we require some clarification to ensure the information we provide meets your needs.
Within the cost threshold we will be able to provide an aggregated dataset showing the number of pupils at each school who lived in each postcode sector (using the standard postcode sector definition which would be to remove the last two characters of a postcode (i.e. S1 2 for S1 2FJ). We will provide this information on the following basis:
· For 2001/02 and 2014/15 only (based on the spring census)
· For all main or sole registered pupils excluding boarders
· For Year 7 pupils only
· For the following local authorities only: 825 (Bucks), 870 (Reading), 871 (Slough), 886 (Kent), 925 (Lincs)
· For all secondary and special schools that have a Year 7, but excluding PRUs and independent schools
· For schools with 150 or more main or sole registered pupils only
In line with standard suppression, numbers will be suppressed where there are fewer than 3 pupils living in the same postcode sector.

If you are happy with the proposed dataset outlined above please let me know and I will take this forward.
If you require an unsuppressed or broader dataset than we can provide within the cost threshold you would need to submit a request for an NPD extract.
To request extracts of the NPD or Linked Data you will need to complete either the ‘NPD data request application form<https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...>’ or ‘Linked data request application form’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...> and ‘Information security questionnaire<https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...>’. Decisions on whether data can be released are subject to a robust approval process and are based on a detailed assessment of who is requesting the data, the purpose for which it is required, the level and sensitivity of data requested and the arrangements in place to store and handle the data. Further information on the NPD request process can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/national-pupil-databa.... If you have any queries with regards to NPD, you can contact the NPD team using the following e-mail address: [email address]<mailto:[email address]>.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should make a complaint to the Department by writing to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter. Your complaint will be considered by an independent review panel, who were not involved in the original consideration of your request.

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the Department, you may then contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Kind regards,

Linda Bennett
Statistical Officer
School absence and exclusions team (including mapping and attainment correspondence for DESAG)
Piccadilly Gate, Manchester
Tel: 01616001599 – Ext: x721599
Email: [email address]<mailto:[email address]>
Web: www.gov.uk/dfe<http://www.gov.uk/dfe>
Twitter: @educationgovuk<http://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk>
Facebook: www.facebook.com/educationgovuk<http://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk>

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Dear Ms Bennett,

Thank you very much for taking the time to clearly explain exactly what information the DfE would be prepared to release to assist with my research into the longitudinal changes in school commuting.

I note that you have suggested applying 'standard' suppression numbers. This seems to indicate that this is a default action taken by the DfE rather than something you feel specifically needs to be applied to this request. Whilst I fully appreciate the need to safeguard person data I do not think this suppression is necessary and if applied it would in all probability render the released information of no use at all. If my request had been for data such as the proportion achieving 5-GCSEs broken down by ethnic group then such suppression would make sense but with spatial information safeguarding anonymity depends on the resolution of the location rather than the number of individuals per sample. For this reason I suggested postal sectors (postcode with last two digits removed) which contain on average 2,600 households.

The advice from the Information Commissioner on this subject is "... where spatial information is being published for a legitimate purpose, the objective should be to achieve the maximum level of detail that can be balanced with the protection of individuals’ privacy." I would not wish for a second to intrude on anyone's privacy, even unintentionally, but would argue that if you were to not suppress this data the most detailed information it would provide to a 'motivated intruder' would be that one of approximately 500 children attending a given school lives in one of approximately 2,600 households. The only people likely to identify an individual from this information would be school friends and teachers or the such like who are already in possession of the information.

Although I fully appreciate your motives are the protection of personal data, which I think is of paramount importance, I'd like to request a review of your decision. Please could you give consideration again to providing the data which you have described but without any suppression being applied. The requested information would help enormously towards openness and transparency in a key public service. The Information Commissioner provides the following guidance on the anonymisation https://ico.org.uk/media/1061/anonymisat.... (page 30) In addition they are really helpful if you were to call them up to discuss.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

Thanks again for your time.

Best Wishes,
James Coombs

Dear Ms Bennett,
I have an addition to make to my last communication. At my suggestion to limit the amount of data provided I note that you have proposed providing Y7 data only. On reflection the identities of those to whom the data relates would be even better safeguarded by providing data for all pupils. As per the example I gave above for a school of 500 pupils, release of data for all pupils would reveal that one of 500 pupils lives at one in 2,600 possible addresses. Releasing just Y7 data would change this to that one in approximately 100 pupils lives at one in 2,600 possible addresses. I still think that provides sufficient anonymity but would be guided by the Information Commissioner. As the data is aggregated I don’t think it would make a significant difference to final volumes of data to provide information for the whole school rather than just year 7 however I realise that I’m not in a position to know whether this would entail more (or possibly even less) work for you.
Yours faithfully,

James Coombs

Department for Education

Dear Mr Coombs

Thank you for your recent enquiry. A reply will be sent to you as soon as possible. For information; the departmental standard for correspondence received is that responses should be sent within 20 working days as you are requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2016-0009308.

Thank you

Department for Education
Ministerial and Public Communications Division
Tel: 0370 000 2288

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Department for Education

Dear Mr Coombs,

Thank you for responding to our clarification request.

An internal review cannot be conducted until we have provided a substantive final response to your request. However, due to your concerns we will expand the response to include all pupils in secondary and special schools, rather than just year 7 pupils, to minimise suppression. Suppression will only be applied for postcode sectors where the number of pupils is below 3. We will produce the data in line with this, and get something back to you by the Freedom of information deadline of 14th March, which is 20 working days from when we received a response to our clarification request.
To confirm, information on the number of pupils at each school by postcode sector will be provided for:
· 2001/02 and 2014/15 only (based on the spring census)
· The following local authorities only: 825 (Bucks), 870 (Reading), 871 (Slough), 886 (Kent), 925 (Lincs)
· All secondary and special schools, excluding PRUs and independent schools
· All schools with 150 or more main or sole registered pupils only, excluding boarders

Kind regards,

Linda Bennett
Statistical Officer
School absence and exclusions team (including mapping and attainment correspondence for DESAG)
Piccadilly Gate, Manchester

Tel: 01616001599 – Ext: x721599
Email: [email address]<mailto:[email address]>

Web: www.gov.uk/dfe<http://www.gov.uk/dfe>
Twitter: @educationgovuk<http://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk>
Facebook: www.facebook.com/educationgovuk<http://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk>

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Dear Ms Bennett,

I have requested that you review the decision to apply what appears to be a standard 'one size fits all' approach to suppression.

I suggested changing the data set to all pupils rather than just Y7 because this _improves_ the level of anonymisation. Assuming secondary schools have a minimum of 500 pupils and there are approximatey 2,600 households per postal sector the only thing a 'motivated intruder' could ascertain from any data sample containing just one pupil is that one of the 500 pupils at a certain school lives at one of the 2,600 possible addresses in the postal sector.

The Information Commissioner's advice on Personal data and spatial information is available here https://ico.org.uk/media/1061/anonymisat... (p30) and their staff are always willing to provide more detailed advice if required.

I would like to re-iterate my request that you review your decision to apply 'standard' suppression as this does not seem at all appropriate in this instance and would render the information of no use.

Yours faithfully,

James Coombs

Department for Education

Dear Mr Coombs

 

Thank you for your recent enquiry. A reply will be sent to you as soon as
possible. For information; the departmental standard for correspondence
received is that responses should be sent within 20 working days as you
are requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Your
correspondence has been allocated reference number 2016 - 0010475

 

Thank you

 

Department for Education

Ministerial and Public Communications Division

Tel: 0370 000 2288

 

 

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Department for Education

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Coombs,
RE: Correspondence reference 2016-0008961

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 15 February 2016. You requested:

“I’m undertaking research into the longitudinal changes in demographics of ‘school commuting’ and would like to request information from the school censuses about pupils home addresses in a suitably summarised and anonymised format.

I’d like this to be based on the most recent census (1 October 2015) and, for comparison, data from 2005 and 1995 to build up a 20 year picture of any variations. If records don’t go back that far I’m open to suggestions as to alternative information which could help understand long term trends.

For each of these censuses I’d like to know the home location of pupils at all English secondary schools. On checking the Information Commissioner’s guidance https://ico.org.uk/media/1061/anonymisat... I feel that requesting the postal sector (the full post code minus the last two digits which contains approximately 2,600 households) would give me the level of detail I am seeking whilst protecting the identity of the individuals to whom it relates.

For each of the three years (1995, 2005, 2015) I’d like a record for each child attending a state funded English secondary schools containing two fields <URN>,<postal sector of home address>

Alternatively, I would estimate the number of records could be reduced to approx one tenth by aggregation to these three fields: <URN>,<postal sector of home address>,<count of pupils at this URN/postal sector>

As I’m interested in commuting the information should either exclude boarders or alternatively include a field added to show boarders/non-boarders. The information should be in a format which allows further processing such as CSV, ODF or an Excel spreadsheet. I’d like to thank you very much in advance for preparing this information as there isn’t usually an opportunity to afterwards but please don’t hesitate to ask for any clarifications.”

Following a number of clarification emails we confirmed that we would provide the following:

“Information on the number of pupils at each school by postcode sector will be provided for:

• 2001/02 and 2014/15 only (based on the spring census)

• The following local authorities only: 825 (Bucks), 870 (Reading), 871 (Slough), 886 (Kent), 925 (Lincs)

• All secondary and special schools, excluding PRUs and independent schools

• All schools with 150 or more main or sole registered pupils only, excluding boarders”

I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
A copy of the information requested is enclosed in the format you requested. It includes the number of pupils in National Curriculum years 7 to 11 by postcode sector in local authorities 825 (Buckinghamshire), 870 (Reading), 871 (Slough) and 886 (Kent), 925 (Lincolnshire). The data has been filtered to include only those state-funded secondary schools and special schools with at least 150 pupils in National Curriculum years 7 to 11. It should be noted that all special schools have fewer than 150 pupils, so only secondary school information is included in the attached table.
Note that suppression has not been applied to the data.
In light of you now being in possession of the requested unsuppressed data, please could you confirm if you would still like us to proceed with an internal review as requested in your most recent email on 23rd February 2016.
The information supplied to you continues to be protected by copyright. You are free to use it for your own purposes, including for private study and non-commercial research, and for any other purpose authorised by an exception in current copyright law. Documents (except photographs) can be also used in the UK without requiring permission for the purposes of news reporting. Any other re-use, for example commercial publication, would require the permission of the copyright holder.

Most documents produced by a government department or agency will be protected by Crown Copyright. Most Crown copyright information can be re-used under the Open Government Licence (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/o.... For information about the OGL and about re-using Crown Copyright information please see The National Archives website -http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/infor... .

Copyright in other documents may rest with a third party. For information about obtaining permission from a third party see the Intellectual Property Office’s website at www.ipo.gov.uk<http://www.ipo.gov.uk/>.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should make a complaint to the Department by writing to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter. Your complaint will be considered by an independent review panel, who were not involved in the original consideration of your request.
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the Department, you may then contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Yours Sincerely,
Laura Selby
Senior Statistical Officer
School absence and exclusions team (including mapping and attainment correspondence for DESAG)
Education Standards Evidence And Dissemination Division
Level 2, Riverside | Bishopsgate House | Feethams | Darlington | DL1 5QE
Email: [email address]

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Dear Ms Selby,

Thank you very much for the time you have taken to produce this information. I apologise for the amount of time it has taken me to check it but it looks correct thanks very much. I can confirm that the only reason I'd requested an internal review was over the question of potential suppression of the data and so I am not requesting a further internal review of the request.

Best Wishes

James Coombs

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