Get to know the Finalists in the Education Open Data Challenge

Nesta and The Open Data Institute have been running the Education Open Data Challenge, part of the Open Data Challenge Series. We have been looking for teams to create open data products and services that could help parents engage with their children’s education and help them find schools or institutions that suited their child’s learning priorities.

On 15th and 16th March at the Education Creation Weekend, we were excited to announce three finalists that were chosen to win £5000 and a package of incubation support. Now those three teams will go head to head in the run up to the final in June, where they will pitch to win £50000 to fully launch their product.

Our finalists were Skills Routeillustreets for Education and In Context - Brenda. Read their interviews below to find out more about their ideas and plans over the next couple of months.

Skills Route

Skills Route was annouced as our Challenge Winner on 17 June 2014.

Team:  Steve Preston, Phil Rossiter, Tom Shirley and Beth Heaven.  We work together at MIME Consulting an educational data consultancy.

What is Skills Route?

Using open data on the post-16 performance of schools and colleges in different subjects, Skills Route allows parents and young people to identify providers in their area at which they are likely to achieve their goals by age 18, showing personalised projected grades in their chosen subjects. In turn, Skills Route shows the higher education options available, based on the grades they are projected to obtain. Skills Route will be the first time that open, subject level data has been used in this way to help people understand course options and projected performance at different providers. Skills Route will mean that:

  • Young people are more likely to find the right provider and course for them, and therefore less likely to drop out of school or college
  • A broad range of appropriate pathways are highlighted to young people, including apprenticeships and vocational provision
  • Right at the start of their post-16 studies, students are clear on what is required for them to progress into the higher education destinations they are interested in

While Skills Route will be free to parents and young people, it will be chargeable to schools who will be provided with advanced features to allow careers advisors to use it in their day to day advice and guidance.

Why is Skills Route important for education?   

Consider the following two startling facts: Fact 1: 150,000 AS exams are failed each year. Fact 2: 40,000 Year 12 students drop out of school each year. Part of the reason for these worrying statistics is that young people and parents are not aware of other options available to them locally, end up on the wrong course, and have unrealistic expectations about what their outcomes are likely to be. Skills Route will vastly increase the likelihood that young people do the courses that are right for them and understand what is involved to reach their target at the end of their studies.

How did your team come up with the idea, when was the light bulb moment?

We were already using post-16 subject level data in the analysis work we carry out for schools and local authorities. When we heard about the Education Open Data Challenge we held a brainstorming session and came up with the idea of a new way of looking at this subject data that would bring it to life for parents and young people. From there the idea has developed further and been informed by the input of parents and young people.

What is the vision for Skills Route?          

Skills Route has the potential to transform the way that parents, young people and careers advisors look at options for progression after GCSEs. We want it to be the go-to tool for people considering post-16 options and planning routes into higher education, apprenticeships and employment.

Tell us how Skills Route will increase parental engagement

As well as having more information on course options in their local area, parents will be engaged in their children's post-16 studies as they are provided with projected grades and the higher education pathways available. There will also be an option of setting a stretch target and Skills Route will link to external resources that can help them to achieve this target. Parents will also be able use Skills Route to hold schools and colleges to account when they are under-performing in particular subjects.

illustreets for Education

Team: We are Manuel Timita (designer and developer) and Katya Koval (data analyst and project manager). We've met years ago. We worked together on illustreets for almost a year before we launched it in September 2013.

What is illustreets for Education?

Schools have always been an important component of illustreets. The app already features an advanced finder which puts schools in a rich local context. However, having had the chance to participate in the Education Challenge organised by Nesta and Open Data Institute, we have been encouraged to think much further. The datasets made available specifically for this event, such as the Haringey Council admission data and the samples from the National Pupil Database have opened our eyes to an extraordinary possibility: that of developing a smart school recommendation engine.

The innovation, in our view, goes past the product itself. We want this to be the starting point of a new way of thinking with respect to choosing schools. Typically, parents rely on their peers for recommendations and then on open school days to confirm whether the recommendations received from friends where good. Eventually, they go online for reassurance that their choice is the best (i.e. Ofsted rating). As we discovered from our discussions with parents, as well as secondary research, the results of the first two steps are highly biased and thus not always the most appropriate.

We aim to change this. Using admissions data, the NPD, and open data already available in Edubase and DfE Performance Tables, illustreets’ intelligent engine will create a tailored set of school recommendations. These will be based on the child’s characteristics and past performance, special education needs, the parent’s subjective preferences (i.e. religious character), schools’ catchment areas, and admission probability. The schools thus recommended will be the best fit for their child.

We are very confident that, if this change in behaviour happens, at least three important categories of stakeholders will benefit from it: - Parents will have an easier task and will be making a more informed choice; - Children will have a greater chance of entering a school that fits their characteristics and learning needs. - Local councils will have an easier task during admissions, as parents will be focusing on a broader, more appropriate pool of schools.

The project can achieve sustainability. One possibility which we are exploring is repackaging the functionality of illustreets as Web Services and delivering it to third party organisations via an API, based on monthly subscriptions.   

Why is illustreets for Education important for education?

First of all, if children enter a school and environment which fits their needs and characteristics, we believe that it will lead to higher levels of motivation, better achievements, and fewer absences and exclusions. Secondly, we will have the capability to feed back analytics and usage data, which schools and local councils could use in order to improve schooling.     

How did your team come up with the idea, when was the light bulb moment?

We have been long thinking about improving the 'Schools' section on illustreets. Amazingly though, it was the Education Challenge that pushed us many steps ahead. Firstly, we had the amazing chance of bouncing our ideas off some very bright people, both participants and organisers. Secondly, it was the unique and new data, released specifically for this event, which helped us see new possibilities.

What is the vision for illustreets for Education?     

As the name suggests, we are 'illustrating the streets'. A web app based entirely on open governmental data, illustreets helps people explore and gain a new understanding of the neighbourhoods which they live in or wish to move to. With "Illustreets for Education", we are looking to use open data to change the way in which parents choose a school for their child. We want to move the focus from what is generally regarded as "the best schools" towards "the best suited schools" using intelligent pupil-to-school matching.       

Tell us how illustreets for Education will increase parental engagement

The research done by Uscreates shows that some parents don't know that their child is behind in some subjects until they come home with a failed exam. The recommendation engine will be looking specifically for this kind of information in order to return relevant results (i.e. where the child requires improvement). Each one of the schools recommended will be accompanied by a brief report, explaining why the school is being recommended and how it is expected to improve their child's results. This way, parents will become more aware of their children's educational needs and thus get more involved.

In Context – Brenda     

Team: Henry Morris, Dale Potter, Jordan Philips, Sajid Baliola       

What is In Context - Brenda?

Brenda enables employers and others to understand the context of applicants. Rather than making a recruitment decision just on the basis of what's on paper, Brenda reveals the circumstances and education achievements of applicants in context. Parents and applicants are able to add further contextual information to benefit their children or themselves. By developing and rolling out Brenda to recruiters and empowering parents, we can have a transformational effect on the life chances of school leavers and social mobility in Britain.  

Why is In Context - Brenda important for education?

Millions of employment and university decisions occur each year with no contextual information on the applicants themselves. Imagine if every time a life-altering decision was made, the recruiter understood the educational achievement of their applicants in context. Were that to be the case, we'd live in a socially mobile UK and the efforts of educators will have been maximised.

How did your team come up with the idea, when was the light bulb moment?

At upReach we select the undergraduates we develop professionally on the basis of social background and potential to benefit. Brenda was born by asking ourselves, "how could we understand our potential beneficiaries in context even better".    

What is the vision for In Context - Brenda?

Social background not being a barrier to professional employment or university.   

Tell us how In Context - Brenda will increase parental engagement

By engaging parents to play their role in enabling employers and university admissions professionals to understand their child in context.


Alicia Weekes

Alicia Weekes

Alicia Weekes

Project Coordinator, Open Data Challenge Series

Alicia was a project coordinator for the Open Data Challenge Series and provided support to both Nesta and the Open Data Institute.

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