How to check your eligibility to join DfE’s LEO secondee pilot and gain access to LEO data for research.

About the LEO programme

The LEO programme connects individuals’ education data with their employment, benefits and earnings data to create a de-identified person level administrative dataset.

The capacity to analyse these longer-term labour market outcomes together, at person level, enables a major leap forward in the assessment of education policy and provision with greater accuracy than ever before.

Access to LEO data

In line with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Five Safes data protection framework, DfE is committed to broadening the use of the LEO dataset.

DfE’s intention is to maximise the benefit to the public and to the education system by enabling wider evaluation of the effectiveness of training and education, and wider assessment of policy regarding the provision of education and training. Also, to enable wider assessment of policy in relation to social security or employment as it affects the provision of, or participation in, training or education.

This will be achieved by making LEO data available to researchers through the Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service (SRS), in line with how DfE provides access to other data.

While DfE and ONS work together to provide access to LEO through the SRS, the DfE will trial the use of the data through the LEO external access secondee pilot.

This gives an opportunity for researchers, who are registered and approved by ONS, to apply to work with the data under secondment prior to it being made available in the SRS.

Approximately 7 research projects will be brought into the pilot. There will be a maximum of 2 years for these projects to complete their research.

DfE will provide secure laptops for pilot researchers, and will not charge for the use of the data.

Successful applicants using Higher Education Data in the pilot will be required to make a payment to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for this element of the data.

DfE is not providing funding for research carried out in the pilot. Research funding must be secured independently by the applicant.

Apply for the LEO pilot

The deadline for round one applications is 11 October 2019.

Please fill in and send LEO pilot stage 1 application form (MS Word Document, 69.9KB) to [email protected]

If you’re interested in applying, please read though the rest of this page. It’s important that applicants fully understand the criteria, and terms and conditions, and are happy to meet and accept them. Successful projects will not be able to access any data until contracts and terms and conditions have been signed, accepted and are in place.

If you have any questions regarding the pilot, please contact us at [email protected]

Information for applicants

Find information on:

  • who can apply to join the pilot
  • how DfE will decide which applications to bring into the pilot
  • what terms and conditions successful applicants will be required to accept before their research can proceed

Project eligibility

DfE is inviting applications from researchers to join the pilot who meet the following criteria:

  • the research has a demonstrable benefit to the public and education system
  • the research meets section 87 of the Employment and Skills Act 2008 (see application guidance notes below)
  • the research will take less than 2 calendar years to complete
  • the applicant is able to demonstrate and adhere to a research methodology (controlled changes of methodology are permitted during the research)
  • the application is owned and submitted by registered organisations that employ the researchers who would carry out the research (for example, a charity, university or business)
  • the applicant can demonstrate readiness to join, and work within, the terms and conditions of the pilot

Terms and conditions for joining the pilot

If successful, you’ll need to accept the following terms and conditions before we provide LEO data access and your research begins. The terms and conditions are that:

  • DfE will not provide funding for the delivery of research within the pilot
  • project researchers are required to provide evidence of being registered as Approved Researchers through the ONS’s secure research service
  • project researchers will be subject to going through DfE’s inward secondment process including nationality and disclosure and barring service checks
  • both researchers and their home employer will be required to sign the pilot secondment agreement with DfE at the start of the secondment process
  • successful applicants will be subject to a number of data protection controls (see the Five Safes in the additional information section below for further information on this)
  • each project will publish its results publicly and contribute to developing the research knowledge base for LEO analysis
  • details of each application may be shared with HMRC, DWP, HESA, the ESFA and the ONS, and will be subject to an independent ethical check at the second application stage

How DfE will choose applications

Assisted by submitted application forms, and the application criteria and scoring information, DfE will decide which projects to bring into the second application round. There’s no right to appeal and DfE’s decisions are final.

The table below shows the application criteria that DfE will use in the 1st application round.

Demonstrate Why we’re asking for this information Further guidance notes Assessment and scoring
Proposed project title n/a Please provide a project title that can be used to refer to this application. None
Purpose and value of the proposed Project To allow DfE to assess purpose and value. Please refer to the scoring and assessment information and provide a description of the proposal. The primary purpose of all research projects must be to provide clear benefit to the public/education system, such as by providing a new evidence for public policy decision-making or by extending understanding of social or economic trends. You might also consider and provide information on how this adds value to the research that is already available, and any gaps that the proposal would fill. Strength and clarity of information provided on purpose, evidence gaps filled (and value of filling the gap), value to public, value to education system, will be assessed by DfE on judgment based strength assessment, including considerations on credibility and perceived strength/value relative to other applications with similar purpose (scored on sift scale). Where required, any assessment made by DfE in relation to other proposed projects will likely take place after the initial scoring.
Proposed research methodology (summary) To set a commitment on methodological approach which successful projects will be held to in carrying out the research – controlled change procedure will be available during the pilot. Also for DfE to be able to consider quality, approach, and usage. Please describe your proposed methodology for carrying out the research project. For intended methods, please consider the sample size requirements, control group requirements and statistical methods you might use along with any other methodological details that you consider relevant. None, but DfE may enquire about these submissions and require revision to meet controls before methodology can be accepted. Where required, any assessment made by DfE in relation to other proposed projects will likely take place after the initial scoring.
Data that is required to deliver the proposed research To allow DfE to understand what data the research would use within the Standard Extract and variable NPD/HESA elements, and to enable DfE to double check that it is possible/available within the pilot. Not detailed at individual variable level, but at cohort/element level (for example, Key Stage 4 NPD data for each student from 2001/2002 to 2011/2012). Using the information that we have provided on the data that will be used in the pilot, please tell us what elements you would use within this research proposal. At application stage one, this can be broad (for example, cohort level). Possible/not possible check by DfE. Where it is not possible but research can be approved overall, and DfE wishes to proceed, applicants will be invited to reapply. Where it is not possible, and research cannot be approved overall, or where DfE does not wish to proceed, based on best judgement, the application will not be accepted.
Proposed outputs To set a commitment on ‘agreed uses’ for example, what outputs will be allowed for the specific project, and what the applicant will do with those outputs after the pilot. Please describe what products you intend to take away from the pilot. Any submissions that do not adhere to the limitations on outputs (for example, only code and research output files will be permitted to leave DfE) will be asked to decide on revision or withdrawal if they are approved.
Ready, willing, able to join the pilot To allow DfE to ensure that only projects that are ready to work within the terms and conditions of the pilot, and to make the most of the opportunity, can be brought into the pilot. Using the information that we have provided about the parameters of the pilot, please describe your readiness to join the pilot. Strength and clarity of information provided on areas of readiness, willingness and ability, plus how closely the submission relates to the information provided in the application pack, will be assessed by DfE using a judgment based strength assessment, including considerations on credibility (scored on sift scale). Where required, any assessment made by DfE in relation to other proposed projects will likely take place after the initial scoring. In the event of a high volume of applications being received, DfE will carry out an initial application assessment using this criteria only.
Compliance with Section S87 of the Employment and Skills act 2008 To allow DfE to ensure that only projects that are compliant with this legislation can be brought into the pilot. Please indicate any section 87 assessment functions that the application meets, and provide a simple and clear description of how it does so. Further information on the proposals alignment with section 87 is also welcome. Strength and clarity of information provided on which of the assessment function/s the proposed project meets, and why it meets them, will be assessed by DfE using a judgment based strength assessment (scored on sift scale).
Number of secondee researchers To allow DfE to understand the number of secondees that will be required to carry out the research. Please enter the number of researchers that you would wish to send through the secondment process to carry out this proposal if the application is successful. This information will help DfE to understand the support that will be required from DfE to enable the proposed research (for example, volume of inductions and laptops) and can be used by DfE to assess the strength of applications relative to one another (for example, where there is credible and closely aligned research purpose/value/methodology, but one requires fewer resources).
Listing of any other work in which the applicant organisation is engaged with DfE To allow DfE to understand any other work with which the applicant organisation is engaged with DfE. Please provide a list of any other engagement in which your organisation is engaged with DfE, what type of engagement it is (for example, contract, collaboration, grant funded), and who your lead DfE contact is. Please provide this information for each listed item. For DfE information, will not be used to assess strength of application. However, please note that any practical issues arising from other work with DfE (for example, overlap of secondments for the same individual researchers) may need to be examined more closely and could potentially preclude an application from being accepted.

Application guidance

Information to help applicants complete the LEO pilot stage 1 application form (MS Word Document, 69.9KB).

Applications to join the pilot will be decided through a 2 stage application process. The first stage is detailed on this page. Applicants who complete the 1st round successfully will be provided with further information and required to go through a more detailed second stage, this will be similar to the regular NPD application process. More information on the NPD application process is available.

Applications which have passed both stages successfully will then go through the secondment and data preparation stages together before research commences.

It is important for applicants to be able to respond to requests for further information and clarification throughout each stage of their application.

Application round one will close on the 11 October 2019, and results are expected to be released around 1 November 2019.

For successful round 1 applications, please be aware that the second application round will be opened soon afterwards, likely around the 4 November 2019. DfE expect that the second application round deadline will be on the 22 November 2019. These dates will be confirmed at the end of round 1.

DfE may release an FAQ document related to the pilot application process (this will be dependent on the volume of any questions that we receive). If you are considering applying and wish to receive a copy of any FAQs, please contact us at [email protected].

Applications must meet the eligibility criteria and should take account of the additional information about data sharing and that:

  • DfE will ensure that:
    • accepted projects fall within the legal gateway for the work
    • there is the widest possible variety of research aims within the pilot
    • applicants are ready, willing and able to join the pilot
    • each pilot project provides a clear benefit for the public and education system
  • only code developed in the secondment, and research output files, will be permitted to leave DfE
  • it may be possible for additional data that is held by DfE, and that has been linked with NPD previously, to be used in the pilot, for example National Client Caseload Information System (NCCIS) data
  • each area of the application scored using the assessment scale will receive an initial score between zero to 4. (for example, zero giving insufficient information and 4 giving very strong information)
  • initial scores will be reviewed together by the pilot scoring group and a final score decided
  • the proposed final sift scores and application stage 1 outcomes will be subject to the challenge and approval of DfE senior leaders

Please complete your initial application using LEO pilot stage 1 application form (MS Word Document, 69.9KB)

List of downloads

Additional information about the pilot

Successful projects will second their researchers into DfE to carry out the research under the Five Safes model of data protection.

The role of each secondee is to carry out the research that has been proposed and defined by their home organisations and accepted into the pilot by DfE.

They will be responsible for doing this in accordance with:

  • their secondee contract with DfE
  • DfE IT acceptable use policy
  • their ONS safer research training
  • any other controls, for which they will receive training at the start of the secondment

Although secondees will be required to attend DfE premises (potentially Sheffield) for training, induction and feedback sessions for example, they will also be able to work with the data remotely using a DfE laptop at their home organisation.

How the Five Safes will be applied to the pilot

Safe people

Individual researchers named in successful research applications must pass the DfE secondee and pilot induction process successfully before any research can commence. Checks will include nationality checks, declared interests/relationships, baseline DBS and ID checks. Secondees will also be required to provide evidence of passing and being registered through the ONS’ Approved Researcher scheme.

Secondees will:

  • be line managed by DfE staff and their use of the data will be subject to monitoring by DfE staff
  • also receive:
    • a bespoke DfE Data Protection Officer approved induction
    • bespoke briefing on DfE data handling standards
    • bespoke data protection training for the pilot
  • be required to complete the standard ‘Protecting Information Training’ on Civil Service Learning before any data access is provided

Safe projects

The application process (round 2) adopts the full National Pupil Database (NPD) governance approach, which includes:

  • full review and scrutiny by DfE’s Data Sharing and Approval Panel (DSAP)
  • external, independent ethical review and scrutiny by DSAP external members

HMRC, DWP, ESFA and HESA approvals will also be sought for each project. Read further information on the NPD governance approach.

Safe data

The pilot will only use standardised and de-identified person level admin data, that is:

  • approved by DSAP for each project
  • held on DfE systems
  • subject to a suite of controls

Safe settings

No data will leave DfE hardware, systems or networks. Secondees will be required to sign the DfE staff IT acceptable use policy and an additional form, specific to the pilot, which acknowledges and accepts that their use of the data is logged and will be monitored.

Secondees will then use DfE-issued kit (which is locked down to prevent email or internet traffic) to access data held on a virtual DfE desktop instance which only has access to the data approved for them by DSAP. Secondees will be permitted to work remotely (for example, from their home employers office) within these controls.

Safe outputs

Research code and outputs (no actual data) will be:

  • saved by secondees on their virtual desktop
  • retrieved by DfE staff at the end of the secondment
  • checked for disclosure risks by DfE staff
  • provided to the secondee back in their home organisation, as determined in their original application

Any disclosure risks must be resolved between DfE and the secondee and project, to DfE’s satisfaction, prior to outputs being released.

Read the guidance ‘longitudinal education outcomes study: how we use and share data’ for more information about how the government shares and uses personal data as part of the LEO Programme.

Published 20 September 2019 Contents