The biggest area of agreement at yesterday’s Educational Attainment and Inequality seminar was that it is difficult to get enough of the right data to really understand what is going on in Scottish education. More importantly, harder to decide what action is needed to tackle the fact that children’s parent’s income still has such a big impact on their educational attainment. We all know that academics always agree that’s what’s needed is more research but what here they were calling for better access to that data that already exists.
The public sector in Scotland is a great collector of information, what it’s not so good at is sharing the data to enable external organisations to use it for research or scrutiny. While obviously the rights to privacy of citizens need to be protected, better use of all these records would help improve public services and scrutiny of government strategies. Speakers remarked yesterday that 2011 census data for Scotland has been very slow to emerge in comparison with the rest of the UK. This holds back planning in the public sector as well as academic research.
Scotland Performs was launched with much fanfare in 2008. The Scottish Government promised
“Visitors to the Scotland Performs website will be presented with highly visual and easy to understand pages. They will have quick access to information about the quality of life in Scotland, and where thing are getting better and where things are getting worse.
The finance secretary John Swinney said:
"Scotland Performs is about responsibility and accountability.”
"By making this information easy to access, and by showing exactly whether we as a country are doing well or need to do more, everyone in Scotland will have the ability to judge for themselves how Scotland is performing."
Scotland Performs has not lived up to this promise. The site is does not have easy to understand pages, does not provide “quick access to information” nor is there evidence of it being a strategic planning tool. Scotland Performs has surface similarities to Virginia Performs. The Virginia site offers both easy to read graphics and explanations/discussions of issues and extensive data for those seeking wider information or wishing to do their own analysis. Sites like Virginia Performs and Baltimore’s website (https://data.baltimorecity.gov/) give access to data that require freedom of information requests in Scotland, including the amounts of individual procurement contracts.
Better access to the data that the public sector holds rather than expensive consultants would really help us work out where we need to go to ensure a fairer Scotland.