Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Linked education and assessment systems data research fellowship

Apply for funding to research ways education and assessment systems data could influence policy. This is part of the Grading and Admissions Data for England (GRADE) initiative.

You must be based at an eligible UK research organisation.

Your project’s full economic cost can be up to £130,000. ADR UK will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Fellowships can last up to 12 months.

Who can apply

Proposals are welcome from individual researchers from eligible UKRI research organisations, including early career researchers (where a mentor is mandatory).

Researchers on fixed term contracts are eligible to apply if their institutions are willing to extend their contracts to cover the period of the fellowship.

Joint applications are not permitted for this call. However, applications can still include mentorship and research assistance where necessary. The fellow should be the one mainly using and leading on the analysis of the dataset or datasets.

Letters of support from other organisations both academic and non-academic are also welcomed, as we are keen to ensure that research is relevant and well-received.

What we're looking for


We are looking for fellowship proposals that meet the following three objectives:

  • useful research: proposals that will act as ‘pathfinders’ for conducting research and deriving insights from the dataset(s), which showcase the potential for policy impact and public benefit
  • useful data: to develop the data as a useful research resource for future users
  • useful engagement: to foster opportunities between academia, government, the third sector and the public that allow fresh thinking to flourish and maintain public acceptance for the use of data for research purposes.

Applicants should read the general research fellowships specification (PDF, 340KB) for more information on these objectives.

Research topics

Data owners Ofqual, UCAS and the Department for Education (DfE) have collectively summarised their research interests in relation to this data linkage, though other questions are also welcomed (alternative evidence or policy relevance provided). Research topics which could be developed include, but are not limited to the below.

Scrutiny of the standardisation model introduced in summer 2020

The data shared will cover all the data used for the development and testing of the standardisation model (, augmented with additional background information on students from DfE (and also on their university applications through UCAS).

Although there is no intention to use the standardisation model again, this research will allow researchers to, for example, conduct independent evaluation of the standardisation model used as a result of examination cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Impact of awarding approaches on students and schools and colleges

The data shared will allow independent evaluation of summer 2020 grading and of the judgements made in awarding grades. In particular, it will allow exploration of whether any particular group of students or schools and colleges were particularly advantaged or disadvantaged by any awarding approach.

See initial research already conducted in this area.

Relationship with other measures of attainment (validity related questions)

A key question in relation to 2020 awarded grades and centre assessment grades (CAGs) is around their validity. From a quantitative perspective this can be explored, for example, by studying the relationship between CAGs (or awarded grades) and other measures of attainment (such as prior attainment).

For A-Levels, it will also allow researchers to study the relationship between CAGs and UCAS predicted grades, and offers received by universities, which will help to inform university admissions policy.

The data covers the period 2017 to 2020, allowing the possibility of benchmarking results to previous years. The GRADE project has already conducted research using the linked datasets, which has provided useful evidence to further evaluate summer 2020 and to inform policy thinking in relation to summer 2021 arrangements. This research is available at the project page on

In addition, or as an alternative, other research questions may be proposed as long as evidence is provided that they are of interest to public service organisations.

Given this data is relatively new to the wider research community, ADR UK also welcomes proposals for feasibility or investigative studies which might involve research that provides a better understanding of an existing problem, but does not necessarily provide conclusive results. For example, exploring the quality or contribution of the data in understanding a particular issue.

Whether research is exploratory or substantive, all proposals should explain how findings will have demonstrable policy relevance.

Applications will be assessed based on their scientific merit and potential for policy impact, as well as their ability to deliver within the timeframe. Data owner approvals are essential and will be coordinated by ADR UK as part of the decision-making process.

What we will fund

Applications can be for either part-time or full-time research fellows, but the recommended minimum is 60% full time equivalent. Proposals may also include:

  • salaries, plus nominated research support staff or mentorship time (mentorship is a
  • requirement for applications from early career researchers)
  • travel and subsistence
  • project-specific engagement or events
  • public engagement
  • production of outputs
  • training.

Applicants will also need to become an accredited researcher of the Office for National Statistics Secure Research Service (ONS SRS) platform. Successful applicants will need to have their project approved by the data owners via the ONS Research Accreditation Panel (RAP).

Including impact in research grant proposals

ESRC expects applicants to consider the potential scientific, societal and economic impacts of their research, with outputs, dissemination and impact a key part of the criteria for most peer review and assessment processes.

It is important therefore to set out how you intend to identify and actively engage relevant users of the research and stakeholders (within and beyond the academic community including, for instance, the public sector, private sector, civil society or the wider public in general) and include evidence of any existing engagement with relevant end users.

You should articulate a clear understanding of the context and needs of these users and consider ways for the proposed research to meet or impact upon these needs.

The proposal should also outline how the legacy of proposed activity will be managed to engage beneficiaries and increase the likelihood of its impact in providing lasting value to participants, stakeholders and the wider social science community.

Opportunities for making an impact may arise, and should be taken, at any stage during the research lifecycle, including:

  • the planning and research design stage
  • the period of funding
  • all activities that relate to the project up to and including the time when funding has ended.

The research lifecycle therefore includes knowledge exchange and impact realisation activities, including reporting and publication, and the archiving, future use, sharing and linking of data. It is important that researchers have in place a robust strategy for maximising the likelihood of impact opportunities and their own capacity for taking advantage of these.

To be effective, all communication, engagement and impact activities must be planned in detail and properly resourced in the proposal. Throughout the relevant sections of the research proposal, applicants should therefore actively consider how these impacts can be maximised and developed. Further information about how impact should be considered in the proposal can be found in the Je-S guidance document (PDF, 316KB).

Read the COVID-19 guidance for applicants (ERSC website)

How to apply

Applications should be made through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system by 1 December 2021 at 16:00.

The ONS Research Accreditation Panel (RAP) form must be submitted at the same time.

Depending on the specifics of the data requested through the project application form, researchers may later be asked to submit an additional form.

When applying on Je-S, select:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: Fellowship
  • scheme: Research Fellowship
  • call/type/mode: ADR UK Research Fellowship: GRADE 2021.

Please read the Je-S guidance document (PDF, 316KB) for further guidance.

How we will assess your application

Following basic office eligibility checks, research applications will be assessed by a funding panel of independent expert reviewers, with at least two individual members reviewing and scoring each proposal.

Final funding recommendations will be made at a panel meeting of all reviewers in mid March 2022, though these will be subject to full data owner approval.

The funding panel outcomes are expected to be communicated within two weeks of the meeting. If an applicant receives conditional funding approval, their RAP form will then be taken to the next meeting for official data owner approval from each organisation providing the data applied for.

Funding approval and offer letters are expected to be issued in May 2022, with a latest start date of June 2022.

Assessment criteria include:

  • likelihood of demonstrating the potential of administrative data research for public policy impact
  • scientific merit
  • feasibility to deliver in the timeframe and address the research questions with the data available
  • knowledge and experience
  • value for money
  • data owner approval.

UKRI supports the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognises the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Read UKRI’s principles of assessment and decision making.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask a question about this opportunity

General queries


Specific methodology or accredited researcher queries


Data linkage, research question, data and metadata queries (including feasibility)


Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk.


Telephone: 01793 444164

Opening times:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30 to 17:00
  • Fridays 8:30 to 16:30
  • closed on weekends, bank holidays and other holidays.

Additional info

Applicant webinar

An applicant webinar will be held on 30 September, with presentations from the data owners and ADR UK. This will give applicants further information about the opportunity and the chance to ask any questions they may have in person.

Register to attend the webinar.

Supporting documents

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