What is RAISEonline data – and why should it be publicly available?

There’s a vast store of information about our schools, but access is limited.  Read about why we need to make it freely available…

What is it and who runs it?

RAISEonline is an online tool commissioned jointly by the then DCSF and Ofsted to provide data to schools to support their ‘self-evaluation’. It aims to provide a common set of analyses for schools, local authorities, inspectors and School Improvement Partners.

Although it is commissioned by – in their terms ‘produced by’ – DCSF and Ofsted it is in fact a product of RM Data Solutions part of Research Machines Limited and ultimately RM PLC.

RM was awarded the RAISEonline contract as part of a £16m education data services contract in 2006. Heroically RM won the work off RM. (RM-subsidiary Forvus had been responsible for producing the then DfES’ achievement and attainment tables from 1995 to 2006.) The contract has been periodically renewed since.

The total value of the contract with RM to deliver and maintain RAISEonline should be FOI-able, but I haven’t yet made a request…

What sort of data is it?

RAISEonline collates raw data about schools from a number of sources, though it’s not clear how many. It is the only source for this collated data, with RM acting as a publisher.

The information is in-depth and reasonably comprehensive, so for instance you can discover how many pupils in a school are asylum seekers, how many receive free school meals and compare specific schools with national averages.

According to RM Data Solutions:”RAISEonline…. has established itself as the main tool for analysing school performance data in England. It is used by 22,000 schools and 3,000 inspectors to support school improvement and school self-evaluation and the school inspection process.”

Here is a screenshot of kinds of data typically available:

Typical RAISEonline main index

It’s easy to see that there’s plenty of depth. You can get contextual information including detailed ethnographic data about those attending the school, the numbers taking Free School Meals, the numbers in School Action, School Action Plus and those SEN registered. There is up to date information on absence and exclusions. Detailed reports and data on attainment and progress, including small amounts of historical data. (Earlier data exists but is not incorporated.)

Here’s an example of the typical level of detail on numbers registered for Free School Meals in one school:

As far as I can tell there’s no API though the data sets are available in in CSV and Excel formats as well as pretty much useless chunks of TIFF and PDF).

When the data is so rich and informative about our schools why is it not available to everyone?

Is it safe?

Since 2009 the DCSF has granted school governors user-defined access to RAISEonline. The access for governors does not relate to pupil-named data and interactive functions. So the data is sanitized from a data protection point of view.*

As a governor I found the data from RAISEonline tremendously instructive. Governors are (or should be) taken from a wide cross-section of the community – they are just people who give up their time to try to help the progress of the local school. If this information is available to governors it should be available to all.

The information about state funded schools, paid for by the state is of broad public interest. Parents, pupils, prospective staff and a whole range of others would clearly benefit and because it already exists it would not cost any more money. So why isn’t it generally available?

Does anyone want it?

There have been initiatives to help people become more aware of school performance. One was Schooloscope which used Ofsted reports and DCFS league tables. The data for Schooloscope was tissue thin, (a lot of it not even data, only pre-digested report), the cutesy icons were cloying and the special measurement of ‘pupil happiness’ was feeble.

However, it was a valiant effort in the face of an absence of real data to try to inform people about what’s happening in schools in their area, choices they can make and what they might want to do about improving those choices.

Although it was weak, I loved and admired Schooloscope for the gracious reasons why they shut it down – they recognised the difficulty in keeping the site up-to-date, and tacitly that their data wasn’t good enough.

If Schooloscope had been powered by RAISEonline data it would have been a different much richer and more complete and sustainable animal. If RAISEonline had an API then the leg-work that exhausted Berg would be diminished.

The data will help everyone understand the state of local, regional and national education. It can be mixed and re-interpreted in relation to other data such as where the money for education is spent on any scale form national to individual school level.

There is a real appetite for this data – not only from individuals, but from companies supplying services to education and business intelligence to the education sector.

It’s impossible for the public to take part in the conversation about improving schools (or celebrating successes) if the information isn’t freely available. RAISEonline needs to be open so that we can all share in the data about what’s happening in our schools, data we pay for to be better informed.

*In a substantial breach of the Data Protection Act Governor access did originally enable pupil tracking (I was able to track my son and his classmates), but afaik this has not been the case since at least Feb 2010.

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