Information needed Response
Title and link to statistical output Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – week 50 2021

Name of producer organisation Department for Education
Name and contact details of person dealing with report Laura Selby
Name and contact details of Head of Profession for Statistics/Lead Official David Simpson
Link to published statement about the breach (if relevant)
Date of breach report 14/12/2021

Information needed Response
Relevant principle(s) and practice(s) T3 – Orderly release
Date of occurrence of breach 14/12/2021

The ‘Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’ – week 50 2021 official statistics release was scheduled to be published via Explore Education Statistics (EES) at noon on 14th December 2021, however due to technical issues there was no content published until 1pm (one hour later).

EES is in it’s public beta phase and has a team of developers actively maintaining and enhancing the service. They diverted their attention to the issue immediately and forced a manual partial release at 13:00 (release page and file downloads only, no table tool functionality), followed by the full release (with table tool functionality) at 13.48 once the underlying bug was identified and fixed.

The bug that caused the issue was within the data transfer function that the service uses to move release files, data and content from the admin application (where statisticians create their releases) to the public application (where users view and interact with releases).

The week 50 release went out 1 hour late, meaning users anticipating the release were unable to access them in a timely way. Users coming to the service could still access previous releases of the covid attendance publication.

Our press office received about 10 enquiries from journalists asking why the statistics had not been published as planned. We believe this is an under estimate of the real impact as it is likely that journalists shared our explanation with other journalists.

The EES support mailbox received 8 queries asking why the statistics had not been published, we responded promptly to explain the problem and updated them again once the release was published.

The EES team were notified of the problem shortly after 12:00 and immediate actions were taken to publish the content as soon as possible and to fix the bug within the service that was causing release publishing to fail.

The Department’s Head of Profession (Neil McIvor) was quickly notified of the problem and agreed that if needed we could issue the statistics to journalists through our press office. We prepared a word document including all the content and were ready to issue this to journalists at 1pm when the content was made available via EES. We therefore did not need to use this mitigation.

We had also prepared a banner alert for the release page within EES to notify users of the issue and our intention to correct it as soon as possible and were in the process of making this go live as the first release was published so did not need to use it. We will further develop this notification functionality so we can more easily alert users to issues like this if they happen again in future.

A meeting has been arranged with the Explore Education Statistics development team to understand what caused the problem and to discuss mitigations we can put in place to ensure problems like this don’t happen again in future, and if they do, that we can be better able to publish releases via other means more quickly.

We will also run a teach-in session with the development team to further their knowledge of official statistics handling and the code of practice. This will give them sight of the wider context for issues like these and give them the opportunity to contribute ideas to potential developments to prevent this happening again.

We have budget in place for further enhancement work for EES and will ensure any development work that comes from these conversations is prioritised appropriately – this may include modifications to our publishing function.