Information needed Response
Title and link to statistical output Access and participation plan data – Monitoring data and outcomes 2019-20

Name of producer organisation Office for Students
Name and contact details of person dealing with report Alison Brunt
0117 931 7166
Name and contact details of Head of Profession for Statistics/Lead Official Mark Gittoes
0117 931 7052
Link to published statement about the breach (if relevant)
Date of breach report 22/11/2021

Information needed Response
Relevant principle(s) and practice(s) T3.4 - The circulation of statistics in their final form ahead of their publication should be restricted to eligible recipients, in line with the rules and principles on pre-release access set out in legislation for the UK and devolved administrations. No indication of the statistics should be made public and the statistics should not be given to any other party without prior permission for access.
Date of occurrence of breach 15/11/2021

The Office for Students (OfS) undertakes annual monitoring of access and participation plans (APPs) to ensure that higher education providers are taking all reasonable steps to comply with the provisions of their plan as set out in condition A1 of the regulatory framework for England. This process involves higher education providers submitting information to the OfS on the progress they have made against the commitments in their approved APPs. The OfS conducted a monitoring exercise for 2019-20 access and participation plans (APPs) throughout the Summer of 2021 based on information submitted by providers. Data from providers’ 2019-20 APP monitoring submissions on investment and progress against provider targets informs the official statistic publication as set out above.

A meeting of the OfS board took place on 23rd September 2021 at which they discussed a report on findings from APP monitoring. The board paper contained emerging findings from monitoring of 2019-20 APPs and noted that a summary report would be published in late Autumn 2021. This board paper contained provisional summaries of the monitoring data. It was shared with the board in advance of the official statistics publication for operational purposes, including:

  • For the board to consider issues identified for the OfS’s regulation and funding of access and participation, on which the monitoring data provided evidence and important context.
  • To help determine the OfS’ risk appetite and regulatory approach to monitoring access and participation plans starting in 2020-21 onwards.
  • To inform the OfS’ approach to future regulatory guidance on access and participation plans.

Details of the board meeting, including the report on APP monitoring, were published on the OfS website on 15th November 2021 ahead of the of the official statistics publication on 25th November. This contained the provisional APP monitoring data which was not redacted.

The data was published on the OfS website within the area dedicated to board papers, which may not be as visible to some external audiences as our other data publications. As noted in the report to the board, the statistics within the paper were provisional since the data collection and monitoring sign-off was still on-going, and represented an emerging picture prior to its final form. The data was presented in the board paper to satisfy this operational need and context, and so did not contain associated contextual notes and references that may have made the data more suitable for an external audience.

Within the OfS, the impact was minimal since there was an operational need for the OfS board to use the data to evaluate the monitoring process and to inform our approach to future regulatory guidance – this falls outside of the Code of Practise for Statistics.

We will review the processes that the OfS has in place to ensure that board papers containing draft versions of official statistics for operational purposes, in advance of their release date according to the OfS official statistics schedule, are appropriately marked and redacted from publication where necessary. It is usual for there to be a delay between OfS board meetings and the publication of the board papers on the website. Whilst this may mitigate some risks of advanced disclosure, it is important that robust procedures are in place to reduce this further.

The timing for the publication of the official statistics was set to coincide with the publication of a thematic report on the outcomes of the 2019-20 monitoring process. Consideration in this case was given to the added benefits in aiding users understanding for the data to go out at the same point as other related products. The Code of Practise for Statistics T3.5 states that “data should be released on a timely basis and at intervals that meet the needs of users as far as practical”. We will consider whether in future it may be possible to bring forward related publications where they are to be published together with official statistics, or whether it may be more appropriate to de-couple the publication of the data so that they may be released as soon as they are ready.