The first Guardian data journalism: May 5, 1821

07 May 2013

Data journalism is not new: the very first Guardian – or Manchester Guardian as it then was – in May 1821 contained a table of data. For the first time, The Guardian has extracted that table so you can see it for yourselves.

The data would seem uncontroversial today: a list of schools in Manchester and Salford, with how many pupils attended each one and average annual spending. It told us, for the first time, how many pupils received free education – and how many poor children there were in the city.

In today’s world of Ofsted reports and education department school rankings, this list would not seem unusual. In 1821, it caused a sensation. Leaked to the Guardian by a credible source only identified as “NH”, it showed how official estimates of only 8,000 children receiving free education were inaccurate – in fact the total was nearer 25,000.

NH’s reasons for supplying the data were clear:

At all times such information it contains is valuable; because without knowing … the best opinions which can be formed of the condition and future progress of society must be necessarily incorrect.

In other words, without knowing the state of society, how can things ever get any better? This was using data to help fight for a decent education system.

In 1821 the official statistics for the city were collected by just four clergymen, an impossible task and one which resulted in inaccurate and faulty data.

The list that the Guardian printed gave a true picture for the first time. Some of the schools still exist today: the Blue Coat school in Oldham is one, which dates back to 1810.

You can read this interesting article in it’s entirety here: