Our rapid-response report, ‘Data about children’s lives in the pandemic’, looks at the impact of the pandemic on children’s lives, and the wellbeing of parents and teachers, through the lens of new data made available to the ODI, as well as various open data sources and in-depth qualitative research.

The ODI team worked for the first time with Barnardo’s and Mumsnet and were given access to new aggregated and anonymised data from Barnardo’s See, Hear, Respond programme as well as from Mumsnet forum search tools from its Mumsnet Talk discussion boards (which attract 7 million monthly unique visitors). These helped to paint a picture through data of how the pandemic was affecting both children and parents from the start of the first lockdown to going back to school in September and beyond.

The report aims to demonstrate how data held within organisations such as these, can provide valuable insights into the most urgent and pressing challenges of our time. The project team also examined open government data from the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions.

One of the key outtakes of the report, conducted during September and October, is the lack of real-time and granular data about the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, the lockdowns and the disruption of schooling and family life on children’s learning and wellbeing.

The ODI is urging more civil society organisations to safely share the data they hold about the needs of children, teachers and parents. This would ensure that the negative effects of the evolving crisis could be detected and tackled responsively, and innovations can take place; in new forms of support for all.

The National Data Strategy (NDS) has set an ambition to use data to shed light on public policy questions. This report is one example of how data can be used in this way and the ODI is currently preparing a formal response to the NDS.

ODI Managing Director, Louise Burke, said:

‘Without new and more detailed data, we cannot truly understand the impact of Covid-19 in real time. The data is vital if we are to target resources effectively and respond to emerging issues in a prompt and timely way, through this second lockdown and what follows.

‘Organisations, like Barnardo’s and Mumsnet, that share their data – or make it open – in an ethical and safe way can help those who want to monitor, understand and address the challenges that teachers, parents and children are facing, and provide direct support.’

Some of the key findings of the Barnardo’s and Mumsnet data revealed that:

  • Referrals to a Barnardo’s new See, Hear, Respond programme increased rapidly to almost 6,500 in the week commencing 12 October 2020 (See, Hear, Respond is a Barnardo’s led programme with 83 partners, which aims to quickly identify and support children, young people and families who are struggling to cope with the impacts of coronavirus)
  • The number of referrals by professionals dropped by approximately 90 in mid-July, which coincided with the start of the summer holidays. Following the end of the summer holidays, in early September, the number of referrals from professionals increased week-by-week, rising from around 70 referrals at the end of August to nearly 300 referrals by 12 October.
  • During April, the term ‘stress’ featured five times more frequently in education-related Mumsnet posts compared to January, and ‘mental health’ was among the ten most frequent phrases used in September in the education-related threads.

MyEd, an ODI startup alumnus, also conducted qualitative interviews with parents, teachers and pupils to put some real-life context to the findings, while a survey of more than 6,500 teachers across England completed through TeacherTapp, gave a fuller picture of the impact of COVID on the lives and wellbeing of teachers, with some interesting results:

  • Two-thirds (69%) of teachers feel that one fifth or more of their class were behind in their learning and 8% of teachers believe that ‘almost all’ are behind.
  • One in four (27%) of head teachers surveyed in October – compared to one in five in June 2020 – feel ‘completely overwhelmed’ (11%) or ‘very anxious and stressed’ (16%) by work.

Data privacy and ethics

Alongside the report, an ODI Data Ethics Canvas was completed and published in relation to this piece of work. The Data Ethics Canvas is a tool created by the ODI for anyone who collects, shares or uses data, helping to identify and manage ethical issues.

All the data received from Barnardo’s, Mumsnet and TeacherTapp was aggregated and anonymised to protect the privacy of the data owners and also to preclude any bias or unethical use of the data.

Barnardo's and the ODI are currently exploring options for sharing its anonymised data more widely to support research in a robust ethical framework. This will be done once the ODI team has agreed with Barnardo's the form of its publication and how the data can be opened up safely and ethically.

Following its work with the ODI on this report, Mumsnet has confirmed it will be hosting a discussion with its users about the use of forum data for research purposes.

Read the full report here, and the data analysis underlying this report can be explored using a dedicated, interactive visualisation tool created by ODI Leeds. The tool allows anyone to investigate the data, including results from the teachers survey, Barnardo’s See, Hear, Respond data, and Mumsnet forums analysis.

The report lead was Dr. Christine Singer, with guidance from Prof. Jeanette Steemers, King's College London and Professor Cynthia Carter, Cardiff University. The research for this project was carried out by the Open Data Institute (ODI) in collaboration with three partners: ODI Leeds, a node of the ODI, responsible for the data sourcing, analysis and the open data publication; ​Allegory, a strategic communication agency who has worked with the ODI for 8 years and is responsible for the research project management and communications; ​and ​MyEd Limited​, a startup who delivered the research qualitative interviews.