An open data challenge


A new £40,000 challenge is seeking ideas that make effective use of open data to help parents engage with their children’s education. Ed Parkes explains.

Education, like many other sectors, is grappling with how and why to use open data – data that is freely available to anyone, anywhere, at no cost.

More and more it is being used and many people are exploring its potential. Some public services have made great progress in using data cleverly, such as in the transport sector where there are a wide variety of route planning apps; in education data is still ripe for the picking.

We have seen data play an increasingly dominant role within education. Teachers are asked to examine different forms of data, to collect it and use it to evidence the things they do. They pore over child performance data, school league tables and exam results to name but a few, to make sense of what is happening in their school. 

Likewise, parents are being asked to use data in order to make the best choices for their children. League tables and GCSE results are published annually and a lot of noise is made around them in the media. But could data be more effectively employed to give parents greater insights and to allow them to make better informed decisions??

In the US we have seen some great progress being made in the education/open data space. As reported recently, New York City’s education department released six new privately created online and mobile applications to help families navigate the city’s high school choice process.

These apps came as a result of the public school district making school-level data available to developers and the general public as computer code as part of its School Choice Design Challenge. The apps range from allowing pupils to make comparison between schools more easily, to finding schools close to certain subway lines to live streams/webinars with high school staff. This is an interesting example of how data could be used to encourage participation in the school system and perhaps something we in the UK can look at too.

?Data has the potential to provide interesting insights and greater knowledge to help guide teachers, parents and students. Of course, data alone doesn’t hold the answer, but used intelligently it can provide the building blocks for useful and accessible products and services.

?The Open Data Institute and Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, have come together to create a unique series of open data challenges. 

We are asking teams to come up with innovative and sustainable uses of open data that help to address social issues. Over the next two years we will be running seven challenges in different fields of interests. For each challenge, projects will compete for a potential £40,000 grand prize. Winning projects will be those with the best solution which combines open data expertise with a credible plan and market.

?In our education challenge we are looking for teams to come up with ideas that help parents make informed choices about their children’s education – either by helping them express a preference for a school, choose a subject or other learning priorities, or engage with their children’s learning.

?Whether helping parents to better understand how their child is performing compared to others, enabling them to raise the right issues at parents’ evening, or supporting them to understand which local schools or GCSE subjects are most suited to their child, this challenge has the potential to ensure parents bridge the “home-education” gap and ultimately improve their child’s chances of success in life beyond school.

?For this challenge we tap into the already available open data sets in the UK education system and have access to two previously unavailable sets:

  1. Pupil performance records from the National Pupil Database: this challenge will see parents volunteer access to their children’s records. Developers will be able to work with this data and to turn it into useful insight for parents while remaining private and secure.

  2. School application and admission records: information on school applications and admissions numbers which can be used to help parents better understand the probability of getting their child into different schools.

?Combining these data sets could create an exciting range of possibilities for tools that provide highly personalised advice and insights. We hope that we can engage more people with education and learning, showcase the potential for open and personal data to be combined to empower parents and learners and create products and services that are user-friendly through this challenge.

  • ?Ed Parkes is the programme manager for the Open Data Challenge Series.

Further information
Applications for this challenge are now close. To find out who made it through the final visit:


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