In this guest blog, Katie Harron, Difei Shi and Joseph Lam from UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health explain the importance of linking data across public services, and how ECHILD (Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data) can be used to understand the complex relationship between child health and education.


Administrative data is created when people interact with public services, such as schools, the NHS, legal or benefits systems. Linking this data together is extremely valuable, as it helps us develop a holistic understanding of individuals’ interactions with public services. Linking longitudinal data, from birth to young adulthood, is incredibly informative. Researchers bring together different pieces of the jigsaw to create a bigger picture of people’s needs, and every additional piece of information helps. Using data in this way allows people to understand how different parts of lives fit together, and ultimately allows leaders to make decisions in a more joined up way.

People putting jigsaw pieces together to spell the word needs


In particular, health and education are different parts of childhood that are inextricably linked. A child with a chronic health condition may miss school due to frequent hospitalisations, and might therefore need extra support within the education system. Hospital admissions for young people with stress-related diagnoses – an early warning for mental health issues - are more common during term-time than school holidays.

ECHILD (Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data), is a linkable collection of longitudinal, administrative datasets from NHS services, all state school education and children’s social care services for the whole population of children and young people in England. We’re using ECHILD to understand the complex inter-relationships between child health and education.

What research is being done using ECHILD?

We’ve been using ECHILD to answer a broad range of research questions, from looking at whether special educational needs provision in schools can improve health outcomes, and how chronic liver disease in childhood might be related to cognitive development, to how changes to child benefits might influence child health and school readiness.

One of the first studies conducted with ECHILD aimed to evaluate the relationship between gestational age at birth and educational progress in primary school. We found that children born early (before 37 weeks of gestation) are less likely than their peers to achieve expected levels of attainment, and more likely to have Special Educational Needs. These effects persist all the way through primary school.

A baby, toddler and child with arrows between them that say growth

Insights generated by research using ECHILD have the potential to shape policies and inform how services are provided to children and families. Because this data covers such a large part of the population in England (~20 million children born from September 1984), it includes anyone in this group who attends NHS services or state schools. That means we have the numbers to look at rare diseases and outcomes.

We can also include people who are less often captured in traditional research – for example those in contact with social care services, or those with mental health conditions. Using this data can facilitate research that is relevant to the whole population and informative to policy makers. We can answer questions about how best to intervene, when, and with whom, to support children’s health and education.

What type of data is involved?

ECHILD links together two key administrative data sources:

  • The National Pupil Database – which holds a wide range of information about students who attend schools and colleges in England, and children who use social care services.
  • Hospital Episode Statistics – which includes information on hospital admissions, A&E attendances and outpatient appointments in NHS hospitals in England.

ECHILD also holds information on mental health services, maternity services, and community services. The ECHILD Database is de-identified, meaning it does not contain any information that immediately identifies a person. For example, it does not include names, addresses, dates of birth, or NHS numbers.

A door that says 'data' with a stop sign underneath and someone opening it with a key

How are we involving the public?

We work closely with patient, pupil, parent and public engagement groups to understand different views and priorities on the use of linked health, education and social care data for research. Find out more about our public engagement activities and share your voices here.

Who funds and collaborates on this work?

The ECHILD project is led by University College London in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, working with NHS England and the Office for National Statistics, funded by ADR UK.

Where can I go for more information?

Please visit our website for updates on research outputs and events, and more information on ECHILD.