Data sources, and secondary data analysis guidance, for Geography and Education Research

Crowd-sourced in May 2020

When thinking about data sources for researching geography and education you can ask:

what kinds of materials – documents, numbers, or audio/-visual material – might offer traces of my topic or focus?

Though there are many kinds of materials you could use, in this blogpost we point out a few that we use as researchers who explore geography and education and point out some readings about methods that might be helpful.

An excellent bibliography of work on the Geographies of Education (J. Waters, 2018) is available here: Following up particular pieces will also allow you to see the range of methods and materials that researchers exploring geography and education use.

Secondary data sources about geography and education

Government Sources
A wide range of data sources and documents are available from government departments (links give UK government examples), for example Education and learning. Similarly, there are many kinds of documents available from local governments (such as on the school applications processes which are managed at this scale).

Organisations with a global remit, as well as charities/NGOs working at various scales have many kinds of documents and materials you could consider. See a few examples here. Parts will focus on implications of wider issues for education and well as there being charities/NGOs which have education as their main focus.

Our World in Data – a website that integrates, visualises and comment on global datasets. It has a number of sections on education so could be useful in finding ‘geographical data’ for inclusion in the lessons. E.g.

OEDC – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development website with a section on Education and relevant reports and publications –

UNESCO – United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization website with a section on Education and relevant reports and publications –

UNICEF – the United Nations Children’s Fund website includes a section on resources related to Education –

Global Partnership for Education – a multi-stakeholder partnership and funding platform that aims to strengthen education systems in developing countries in order to dramatically increase the number of children who are in school and learning. – (See also a critical piece of GPE’s work:

UK Data Service and other dataset repositories
National archives are searchable in a variety of ways.

For example, the UK Data Service, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, holds around 6,000 datasets collected in the UK (around 5,000 of which are quantitative data), including major UK government-sponsored surveys, cross-national surveys, longitudinal studies, UK census data, international aggregate, business data, and qualitative data. Individuals must register on the site to browse the collection. Some datasets are available to registered users, others can only be accessed by contacting the original researchers.

The site can be reviewed by theme, such as education, but you might also make connections between education and other themes such as ageing, economics, food and food security, poverty and social exclusion and more: Again, these may focus directly or indirectly on children, youth and families.
You can also browse by type of data such as: quantitative and qualitative data collections.

The UKDS website also includes extensive advice and training resources on secondary data analysis. 

A webinar designed for students undertaking dissertation research using secondary data analysis by the UK Data Service is available on the UKDs YouTube Channel:

Datasets collected in other European countries, and in the USA, can be found on  Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives and Harvard Dataverse

Geography and education methods texts focused on the use of secondary data

In some ways reflection on methods in the investigation of geography and education is somewhat under-developed, and much of it comes with papers as they discuss their methodologies such as this and this using archival approaches. However, the following pieces published for a range of audiences (including education researchers) may be useful.

Admadi Nejad Masouleh, F., Murayama, Y. and Rho’Dess, T.W., 2009. The application of GIS in education administration: protecting students from hazardous roads. Transactions in GIS, 13(1), pp. 105– 123.

Bauer, I. (2015) Approaching geographies of education differANTly, Children’s Geographies, 13:5, 620-627, DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2015.1044197

Butler, A., & Sinclair, K. A. (2020). Place Matters: A Critical Review of Place Inquiry and Spatial Methods in Education Research. Review of Research in Education, 44(1), 64–96.

Henig, J.R., 2009. Geo‐spatial analyses and school choice research. American Journal of Education, 115(4), pp. 649– 657.

Lubienski, C. and Lee, J. (2016) Geo-spatial analyses in education research: the critical challenge and methodological possibilities, Geographical Research, 55 (1): 89–99

Sohoni, D. and Saporito, S., 2009. Mapping school segregation: using GIS to explore racial segregation between schools and their corresponding attendance areas. American Journal of Education, 115(4), pp. 569– 600.

Mann, B., & Saultz, A. (2019). The Role of Place, Geography, and Geographic Information Systems in Educational Research. AERA Open.

This is the editorial of a special issue which presents a range of approaches.

Taylor, C., Rees, G. and Davies, R. (2013) Devolution and geographies of education: the use of the Millennium Cohort Study for ‘home international’ comparisons across the UK, Comparative Education, 49:3, 290-316, DOI: 10.1080/03050068.2013.802927

Yoon, E.-S., Gulson, K., & Lubienski, C. (2018). A Brief History of the Geography of Education Policy: Ongoing Conversations and Generative Tensions. AERA Open.