PSAs are at the centre of the Government’s performance measurement system. They are usually three year agreements, set during the spending review process and negotiated between departments and the Treasury. They set objectives for the priority areas of government’s work.
This PSA is led by the Department for Education – formerly the Department for Children, Schools and Families – (the Department), with data provided by a range of sources. Each PSA has a Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) who is responsible for maintaining a sound system of control across Departmental boundaries that supports the achievement of the PSA. The underlying data systems are an important element in this framework of control.
The most recent public statement provided by the Department on progress against this PSA was in the 2009 Autumn Performance Report in December 2009.
The purpose and scope of this review
The Government invited the Comptroller and Auditor General to validate the data systems used by government to monitor and report its performance. During the period October to December 2009, the National Audit Office (NAO) carried out an examination of the data systems for all the indicators used to report performance against this PSA. This involved a detailed review of the processes and controls governing:
- The match between the indicators selected to measure performance and the PSA. The indicators should address all key elements of performance referred to in the PSA;
- The match between indicators and their data systems. The data system should produce data that allow the Department to accurately measure the relevant element of performance;
- For each indicator, the selection, collection, processing and analysis of data. Control procedures should mitigate all known significant risks to data reliability. In addition, system processes and controls should be adequately documented to support consistent application over time; and
- The reporting of results. Outturn data should be presented fairly for all key aspects of performance referred to in the target. Any significant limitations should be disclosed and the implications for interpreting progress explained.
Our conclusions are summarised in the form of traffic lights. The ratings are based on the extent to which departments have:
- put in place and operated internal controls over the data systems that are effective and proportionate to the risks involved; and
- explained clearly any limitations in the quality of its data systems to Parliament and the public.
The remaining sections of this report provide an overview of the results of our assessment, followed by a brief description of the findings and conclusions for each individual data system. Our assessment does not provide a conclusion on the accuracy of the outturn figures included in the Department’s public performance statements. This is because the existence of sound data systems reduces but does not eliminate the possibility of error in reported data.