The chair of the UK’s statistics watchdog has written to education secretary Damian Hinds, raising “serious concerns” about his department’s use of school funding statistics.
The UK Statistics Authority launched an investigation into the Department for Education over a minister's claim that it was spending "record amounts" on school funding, after it emerged that the figures included billions of pounds of university and private school fees.
The figures cited by the DfE and school standards minister Nick Gibb, in defending the government's spending on education, included money spent by university students on tuition fees and what parents spent on private school fees.
Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to Mr Hinds this morning, chastising him for repeatedly using misleading statistics to bolster his arguments.
“I am writing to raise with you serious concerns about the Department for Education’s presentation and use of statistics,” he wrote.
“The UK Statistics Authority has had cause to publicly write to the Department with concerns on four occasions in the past year. I regret that the Department does not yet appear to have resolved issues with its use of statistics.
Hinds defends DfE's use of statistics
“I urge the Department to involve analysts closely in the development of its communications, to ensure that data are properly presented in a way that does not mislead.”
Hetan Shah, CEO of the Royal Statistical Society, described the rebuke as “blistering”, and said it was “amazing” for Sir David to send such a letter to a minister.
“Extraordinary that [the Uk Statistical Authority] has felt it necessary to seek the secretary of state’s reassurance that his department remains committed to the statutory code of practice for statistics and, secondary that [the DfE] will start behaving in a manner that ‘does not mislead’,” he tweeted.
The row erupted last week after the DfE and Mr Gibb cited figures saying that the UK was the third-highest spender on education as a proportion of economic output in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of wealthy nations.
His comments came after more than 2,000 headteachers marched to Downing Street to protest at funding cuts.
Jules White, one of the organisers of the protest, said the government’s misleading use of figures to oppose concerned headteachers was “both shocking and disturbing”.
Mary Bousted, joint leader of the NEU teaching union, branded the DfE's use of figures as "appalling"
Mr Hinds has today defended the department’s use of figures in a letter to the Statistics Authority, and pledged to work closely with it to ensure that “all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the right context”.