Linked education data open up new opportunities for study of millennial generation

23 January 2020

Researchers can now access enhanced linked educational records for Next Steps, including GCSE and A-level exam results, and vocational education records.

The linked data, deposited by the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), will allow researchers to more accurately study how pupils born in 1989-90 progressed through school and Further Education (FE) in England. When combined with the rich survey data, the linked education records provide insight into how people from different backgrounds fared in the country’s education system.

The Next Steps study team worked with the Department for Education (DfE) to securely link Individualised Learner Records (ILR) Learner and Learning Aims and National Pupil Database (NPD) data to cohort members’ survey data.

Individualised Learner Records

ILR data have been linked to Next Steps survey data for the first time. These data consist of learner record information, including type of course undertaken, such as an Apprenticeship, NVQs or A levels, eligibility for funding entitlement, and destination of learner after completion of learning. Each learner record also includes one or more learner aim records. A learning aim record contains information such as start date of course, end date, fee information and course outcomes. These data will allow researchers to compare information taken from cohort members on their educational aspirations to the actual routes they took after compulsory education.

National Pupil Database

NPD records were previously linked to Next Steps participants’ data, and deposited at the UK Data Service by the DfE in October 2012. These datasets will be available alongside the current deposit.

Next Steps NPD data for Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 are available at both exam level and pupil/student level for the first time in this deposit. The enhanced Key Stage 4 records include exam subject taken, predicted grade, final grade and total GCSE and equivalents point score.  The enhanced Key Stage 5 records include information on type of FE establishment attended, academic subjects studied or vocational courses taken and grades, eligibility for free school meals and mode of travel to place of education. In addition, a wider range of variables is available for Key Stage 4 at pupil level, including the grade achieved in individual GCSE subjects.

The linked datasets have also been updated to include information on participants whose records had not been linked previously. Records for cohort members who had withdrawn from the study, as well as the extra 352 boost sample participants who were added to the study at the Age 17 Sweep, are now included in the linked NPD datasets.

For Key Stage 4, a total of 15,272 consenting Next Steps participants were successfully matched out of 15,610, corresponding to a successful linkage rate of 97.8%. For Key Stage 5, a total of 8,802 were successfully matched out of 15,610 corresponding to a successful linkage rate of 56.4%. The linkage rate for Key Stage 5 was lower as fewer cohort members took these qualifications, which are after the end of compulsory schooling.

Dr Lisa Calderwood, Director of Next Steps, said: “These datasets will open up new opportunities for researchers and policymakers to study the education and employment pathways of the millennial generation with greater accuracy and detail than ever before. Crucially, pathways through further education can now be examined using newly linked data on vocational courses and qualifications.

“The linked records will enable researchers to see how pupils’ early childhood and family background influences their progress through school and FE, and ultimately, to their chances of going to university and succeeding in the labour market.

“These new linked data will help to improve the scope and quality of education and employment-related research, which will have the potential to benefit policy and practice, as well as current and future generations.”

Cohort members’ survey data and linked education records are anonymised and can be accessed by bona fide, registered researchers under a secure access licence through the UK Data Service website.

This latest development is part of a wider programme of data linkage work under way at CLS, which runs Next Steps and three other cohort studies – the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study, and the Millennium Cohort Study.

How to access the data

The datasets are available via the UK Data Service’s secure access system, the Secure Lab. Information about how users can apply for access to these data can be found on the UK Data Service website.

Next Steps: Linked Education Dataset, Individualised Learner Records, England, 2005 – 2014 (SN 8577) can be viewed on the UK Data Service website.

Next Steps: National Pupil Database pupil and exam level records data, Sweeps 1-8, 2004-2016 (SN 7104) can be viewed on the UK Data Service website.

Read the user guides

Next Steps: A guide to the linked Individualised Learner Records (ILR) Learner and Learning aims datasets

Next Steps: A guide to the linked National Pupil Database (NPD) KS4 and KS5 datasets


  1. CLS securely transferred personal details (such as the cohort member’s name, sex, date of birth and address) when working with the DfE to link education records to survey data. No other information about the person was sent, or any of their answers to the surveys. The DfE only used these details to identify the person in their systems and to send CLS their education records. Once the correct information was identified, these personal data were destroyed. When the data from the education records were sent to CLS, it was added to the information collected in the study. All linked data are made available to researchers under a secure access licence. Names, addresses, National Insurance and/or NHS numbers, are never disclosed.
  2. Highly confidential datasets managed by the UK Data Service are classified as controlled data, which are not available under standard UK Data Service access arrangements. Users applying for controlled data have additional conditions of access, including the completion of special forms and attending a training course. Once approval is granted, datasets are available to view on the UK Data Service’s secure system, the Secure Lab. Data accessed in this way cannot be downloaded. Once researchers and their projects are approved, they can analyse the data remotely from their organisational desktop, or by using the UK Data Service’s Safe Room. They provide access to statistical and office software to make remote analysis and collaboration secure and convenient.
  3. NPD data records were previously linked to Next Steps cohort members’ data and deposited at UK Data Service by the DfE in October 2012 and will be available alongside the current deposit. These datasets include:
  • All Pupil Level Achievement Data: Pupil attainment at Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4
  • Reduced NPD Data: Summary of pupil attainment at Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4, free school meal eligibility and Special Education Needs (SEN).
  • School Level Data: Information about the school each cohort member attended at the sampling stage and where linked to the NPD, information about the primary school attended at Key Stage 2.


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