A few years years ago we blogged about the Department for Education’s Information Standards Board. We thought we’d revisit it. Having done so one extraordinary fact stands out:


I suppose we’d better qualify that. What we did notice is that our previous observation that “there are 269 “Recommended” standards, and zero “Adopted” standards” has moved on: there are now 384 recommended standards but still zero adopted standards. This is in spite of the ISB’s mission statement that:

“The core business of the ISB, supported by the Technical Support Service (TSS), is to successfully embed standards within the Education, Skills and Children’s Services (ESCS) system in England.”

Apart from that unfortunate detail, all of the salient points that we made back in February 2015 remain true today. We gathered together the elements of our critique under the following headings, drawn from the goals of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Standards Process:

  • technical excellence;
  • prior implementation and testing;
  • clear, concise, and easily understood documentation;
  • openness and fairness; and
  • timeliness

It is in this context that we have seen no movement. None. Nada.

We foraged around the (clearly moribund) ISB website and found the following document entitled Championing Open Data Standards, published in September 2016. It’s so… well let’s be direct – it’s so pitifully ex post facto that we decided to reprint it in full; you should note the Information Standards Board has not met since so it’s our guess that nothing here has changed subsequently. Here it is, verbatim:

Championing open data standards

Why have common and open data standards?

In order to achieve efficient data movement and matching, there is a need for common data standards. These are necessary to allow people and systems to exchange and re-use information.

This was recognised within the Education, Skills and Children’s Services (ESCS) sector, and the Information Standards Board (ISB) was created in 2007 to deliver the data standards and data model to realise savings in the costs incurred with data moving and processing.

Why use the ESCS Information Standards?

DfE and BIS have jointly sponsored a Board and Technical Support Service since 2007 to develop the ESCS standards and support their implementation. Their aim was to provide a definitive set of standards through stakeholder consensus and support their implementation by ensuring developments were shared effectively and lessons learnt.

The standards and data model developed aims to provide a sector-wide solution which is future-proofed, so that it meets both the ability to cover the wide-ranging, but often similar, data items in more general terms, as well as allowing the model the flexibility to develop as a result of new policies which may impact on the data items in the model.

Where are we now?

Whilst much work has been done to develop the model and standards, the potential benefits of that investment are yet to be fully realised. There has been a strong focus on supporting two key areas of model usage so far: the Joint Council for Qualifications’ (JCQ’s) A2C project; and the Data Exchange Project being led by DESAG within DfE. However, the ESCS Information Standards have not yet been widely adopted.

Standards and Data Models by their nature require constant maintenance even once developed. If we are to have common data standards, there will be a need for ongoing support to further develop the model.

Questions for discussion

  • How can we build wider interest and engagement with ESCS Information Standards?
  • Who are the potential users? Government, LAs, MIS, Schools, Colleges, etc
  • What could be done to engage more with users?
  • How can DfE facilitate this?


We’ll say it again: this was the penultimate published document from the ISB, succeeded only by a technical note on 19 December 2016 regarding the latest (very small and as far as we can establish, unconsulted) changes to the ISB document set.

Given the lack of process by which a standard is judged; given the lack of engagement, input and challenge that a standard requires to warrant the title; and given its complete lack of adoption – it has to be asked:

Can the Information Standards Board’s Business Data Architecture ever be considered an open standard?

To conclude: take a look when this juggernaut was founded.

Yes, that’s right – 2007. It’s now 2019.

A dozen years have gone. It’s now in its third (or is that fourth) government for goodness’ sake. Yet despite this repetitive failure in process, despite the singular lack of progress in engagement and adoption and because of what appears to be a failure in the proper oversight of this monumental white elephant… money continues to be spent.

It’s probably time to ask why, and how much.


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