Using blended data to identify educational potential without personal intrusionShare Case Study:
Joe Seddon, founder of Zero Gravity, explained how building a recruitment algorithm to identify high-potential students from low-income backgrounds based on their socio-economic and educational background would illustrate their prior performance and barriers to success. Since Zero Gravity supports students in the bottom 40% of the income distribution across the UK, increased postcode inequality– particularly in London– has challenged the algorithm’s capabilities in targeting the right students.
“Now that London levels of postcode inequality have now become a nationwide phenomenon, our algorithm requires geo-demographic targeting at an increasingly granular level so we can target our services where they’re needed most,” Joe explained.
“The data shows that tens of thousands of students struggle to access top universities – it’s not just the bottom 10%… Our challenge is therefore to understand what background our applicants are from without asking for intrusive information such as parental tax returns and free school meals eligibility. That approach only serves to create a charity-beneficiary relationship where young people feel like they have to prove their level of disadvantage. We want to celebrate and support ambition, rather than fetishising disadvantage.”
Nowadays, asking applicants to provide their postcode is a standard requirement when registering with any online service. From this single piece of information, CACI’s Acorn dataset provides rich, accurate and up-to-date socio-demographic information, helping to contextualise Zero Gravity applicants.
“People expect to give a small amount of identifying data – sharing their home postcode is not a big deal when students are getting so much value for free,” Joe continued. “Acorn provides just as robust an indication of family income from applicant postcodes as free school meals data, without any intrusion or sense of being patronised.”
The Acorn dataset enhanced Joe and the Zero Gravity team’s understanding of the backgrounds of thousands of applicants. The Acorn data came with clear instructions on how to use it and insights into how other organisations had applied it effectively.
“We built it directly into the digital platform – it was a really easy integration,” Joe concluded.
The impact was huge. “When thousands of secondary students signed up with us last year, we automatically knew which of them were in the greatest need,” Joe exclaimed. “It was a hugely valuable tool.”
Joe sees wider future applications for the Acorn data in further education and development, which will benefit students, educators and employers alike.
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