Methodology

Serious incident notifications

Published

Summary

This page is a guide to the serious incident notifications official statistics release published by the Department for Education (DfE). It sets out information on:

  • Background
  • Data collection and processing
  • Data quality 
  • Key users
  • Symbology and rounding
  • Official statistics
  • Revisions

Background

The Children Act 2004 (as amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017) states that where a local authority in England knows or suspects that a child has been abused or neglected, the local authority must notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (the Panel), and by extension the Department for Education and Ofsted, if:

(a) the child dies or is seriously harmed in the local authority’s area, or 

(b) while normally resident in the local authority’s area, the child dies or is seriously harmed outside England.

The local authority must also notify the Secretary of State for Education and Ofsted where a looked after child has died, whether or not abuse or neglect is known or suspected.

The statutory duty to notify the Panel, and by extension the Department and Ofsted, came into effect from 29 June 2018. Prior to this, notifications were made only to Ofsted. 

Serious harm includes (but is not limited to) serious and/or long-term impairment of a child’s mental health or intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development. It also covers impairment of physical health.

The statistics show the number of incidents notified in the period, rather than the number of incidents that occurred in the period and are based on one notification per incident, which can relate to more than one child in some instances.

The local authority should notify the Panel within 5 working days of becoming aware that the incident has occurred. However, in some cases, there can be delays in notifications being submitted. In addition, whilst reporting has improved in recent years, the Department is aware that, in some instances, not all incidents that meet the definition for a serious incident are notified.

Data collection and processing

Local authorities notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (the Panel) of serious incidents via the Child Safeguarding Incident Notification System. This replaced the previous online form which notified Ofsted. The local authority should notify the Panel within 5 working days of becoming aware that the incident has occurred. The online system stores the information submitted by the local authority and this can be accessed by the Panel, the Department for Education (the Department) and Ofsted.

The Child Safeguarding Incident Notification System automatically notifies the Department of an incident, and officials manually classify the incident based on the information contained in the notification. The details of each notification are stored by the Department.

If a notification form has missing or inaccurate data entries, the Department will request clarification from the local authority and ask the local authority to resubmit. If resubmitting is not possible, the Department will liaise with the local authority to make manual changes to the data received.

The data is aggregated by characteristics such as age group, ethnicity, and incident type, for the purpose of internal reporting. This allows officials to alert ministers to emerging concerns about particular trends.

Data quality

The data is quality assured by the Department at both the categorisation and the aggregation stage. Where information is missing, or in cases where there is clearly an error, the Department contacts the local authority for clarification.

The Department has been responsible for the production and publication of the statistics for over five years and data quality has improved since 29 June 2018 following the statutory duty coming into effect on local authorities to notify the Panel of serious incidents. Prior to this, notifications were made only to Ofsted.

The Department in recent years has been working more closely with local authorities to increase awareness and familiarisation with the reporting system and to address data issues where necessary. For example, contacting local authorities where applicable to ensure categorical data is recorded accurately. 

The process of notifying serious incidents has now been running for a number of years and local authorities are familiar with the notification system. The Department continues to make improvements to the system to improve data quality.

Users should read all footnotes and caveats presented in this release to fully understand the practical applications and limitations of the data.

When using the data consider:

  1. Data is as at time of notification. If the notification stated that the nature of the incident was serious harm but the child subsequently died, they would still be classed as serious harm in these statistics.
  2. If a notification form has missing or inaccurate data entries, the Department will request clarification from the local authority, but are not always successful in resolving the issue.
  3. Local authorities should submit one notification per incident. However, there are a small number of instances where local authorities submit multiple notifications per incident, for example, one notification relating to the victim and one notification relating to the perpetrator. The Department will liaise with local authorities to resolve such instances but on occasion is unable to do so.
  4. Whilst reporting has improved in recent years, the Department is aware that, in some instances, not all incidents that meet the definition for a serious incident are notified.
  5. There can be delays in notifications being submitted (i.e. after 5 working days) and in a small number of cases, there is a significant delay in notifications being submitted. Officials continue to work with local authorities to minimise this lag, but it should be noted that the number of incidents reported in a given time period does not necessarily correspond to the number of incidents that occurred in the same time period.
  6. Some serious incident notifications are submitted retrospectively. If a local authority was not sure if it was a serious incident at the time, it would be reported late.
  7. All data in this release is based on single notifiable incidents. In some instances, a notification can relate to more than one child (therefore the number of notifications received in a given year does not equate to the number of children affected). When this happens, the characteristic information is based on one child only (either the first child listed on the notification or the child whom the harm relates to). Therefore, in some instances, the characteristics information doesn’t always relate to all children involved in the serious incident and this should be considered when interpreting the figures. The characteristic information is identified as at the point of notification.
  8. Comparisons between characteristics data over time and between different characteristics in any given year should be made with caution due to the small sizes of some breakdowns.

Key users

The main users of serious incident notification data are:

  • Children’s Serious Incident Response Team (CSIRT) in DfE
  • Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (the Panel)
  • Ofsted

Other known users of the data are:

  • The Home Office
  • Department of Health and Social Care
  • National Child Mortality Database
  • Office of the Children's Commissioner

Symbology and rounding

The following symbols are used in the underlying data files as follows: 

     c     to protect confidentiality - secondary suppression may also be applied to figures to protect confidentiality

     x      data not available 

Where any number is shown as zero, the original figure submitted was zero.

Regional numbers have been rounded to the nearest 10. National and local authority numbers are unrounded. As a result of rounding, regional numbers may not sum to national totals.

Official statistics

These statistics have been published as official statistics for the second time, whereas previously they were classified as experimental statistics. Further information on the different types of official statistic is available on the website of the UK Statistics Authority. The rationale to publish these statistics as official statistics is as follows, which was assessed and agreed between statisticians in the Department prior to the publication of the 2023 statistics:

  • The Department had been responsible for the production and publication of the statistics for four years prior to the publication of the 2023 statistics and data quality had improved since 29 June 2018 following the statutory duty coming into effect on local authorities to notify the Panel of serious incidents.
  • The Department considers these statistics to be an accurate account of the number of serious incidents that local authorities have notified to the Panel. However, whilst reporting has improved in recent years, the Department is aware that, in some instances, not all incidents that meet the definition for a serious incident are notified, particularly those relating to serious harm. See the ‘Data quality’ section above for further considerations when using the data.
  • There is no intention to stop this series (user engagement has shown continued need for the data).

Revisions

The serious incident notifications publication is produced using a final version of the dataset. The department does not plan to make any revisions to the publication. If it is later discovered that a revision is necessary, this will be made in accordance with the DfE statistical policy statement on revisions.

Help and support

Contact us

If you have a specific enquiry about Serious incident notifications statistics and data:

Children’s Services Statistics Team

Email: sin.stats@education.gov.uk
Contact name: Louis Erritt

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone: 020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

Telephone: 037 0000 2288

Opening times:
Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays)