Why the Census matters

Posted on: 24 Apr 2014

With the ISC Annual Census out today, forty years since it first began, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, Deputy General Secretary and Head of Research, takes us through why the results matter and how schools can use it to their own advantage.

Today is Census Day, when the ISC’s Annual Census is released making headline news across the nation’s press. This year, it is even more special as it is the fortieth anniversary of the first Census.

Census Day, the culmination of seven hard months’ work, is always a busy day here at ISC. ‘Phones ring off the hook with eager journalists quizzing us on the data and forensically grilling Chairman Barnaby Lenon on the rise on pupil numbers in London, or the stats on boarding school pupils or numbers of children aged under ten.

But the Census is about a lot more than Census day and a few headlines in the papers. It’s about gathering the facts, the hard facts, about the state of our sector. Facts that can give us a precise and accurate picture of what is really going on in our schools and across the whole sector. This helps us to really examine the realities for schools and helps us analyse the trends so important as associations and schools make decisions for the future.

Back in 1974, when the Census began under the aegis of the then Independent Schools Information Service, the sector needed information to be able to fight from a position of strength in what was then a particularly hostile political climate. While much has changed over the last four decades, there is perhaps even more that has stayed the same. We still need information about how many pupils there are in our sector, the number of schools and where they are, the extent of boarding, the number and range of overseas pupils, how much our schools provide in fee assistance, the number of boys and girls and so on.

Every day, the ISC and associations press offices use the Census to refute the latest whim or idea of a journalist or politician caught up in their own prejudices or agenda about a perceived an issue or a problem. With the facts at our fingertips, many a damaging and untrue headline or statement has been shot down in flames.

But there is no doubt that it is a great deal of work for each and every school to collect and enter their data and it is a great deal of effort for the team of three researchers at ISC to collect it, analyse it and write it up. Our schools dedicate a huge amount of effort in getting it right and we really appreciate that. It is a lot of data, it can be tricky to gather, and I am immensely grateful that schools give it to us.

I feel a huge responsibility to look after the data and use it for the schools benefit. I think it is important that schools recognise how they might use the data that is relevant to them about what is going on in their part of the sector. The Census can really help schools and associations with valuable information so they can, year on year, look at the facts and trends when they are making important strategic decisions about their future. Should they go co-ed? Have they got the right number of places in their boarding house? Are they going after the right overseas markets for pupils? I’d like to be able to do more of this – to open up our data so each and every school can use it and access it for themselves.

We try and give as personalised a service as we can to schools. We know it is a big time commitment for a school and it can be a baffling process. What do we mean by those confusing questions about partnerships? Or fee assistance? Often, when a school first rings us with their data, it is just the start of a conversation that may go on for several days or weeks, where one of the team here are happy to support you with deciding how to enter information. We are always here with a, hopefully, smiling face. It is not an anonymous service but just me, Adele, our Research Information & Systems Manager, and Ewa, our SQL Data Analyst, along briefly, with a handful of temps we bring in to help at the peak of our data collection.

So once again many thanks for all your help with the 2104 Annual Census – and here’s to the next forty years…

About ISC Press Office

The ISC Press Office posts blogs on behalf of ISC schools and Associations.