The UK’s statistics watchdog has reprimanded the Department of Education for using misleading figures to make itself look better not just once, but four times over the past year.
In a letter, the UK Statistics Authority's chairman, Sir David Norgrove, said he had “serious concerns” about how the department presented figures on both school standards and government spending on education.
These are authority's four concerns:
- Last week school standards minister Nick Gibb claimed that England had risen from 19th to 8th place in an international survey of reading standards of 9-year-olds. The UK Statistics Authority found this was “not correct,” as England had risen from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016.
- A tweet from the DfE claimed there is “more money going into schools than ever before”. The authority says figures were “presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding” by not breaking down funding according to spending per pupil.
- In a blog post about government funding of schools, the DfE also cited Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development figures saying that the “UK government spent the highest percentage of GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education”. The UK Statistics Authority said this was skewed to “give a more favourable picture” by including a wide range of education spending beyond publicly funded schools.
- The authority also investigated concerns raised by Labour about the DfE's claim that there has been a substantial increase in the number of children in schools with "good" or "outstanding" Ofsted ratings. The figures cited by the DfE “do not give a full picture,” the statistics watchdog found, and “should be set in the context of increasing pupil numbers, changes to the inspection framework and some inspections that are now long in the past”.
'Trust in the DfE is being eroded'
"Trust is being eroded," said Jules White, a headteacher and organiser of the Worth Less? campaign against school funding cuts.
"Our political masters have played fast and loose with the facts and then have had the gall to infer that our well-sourced and entirely reasonable concerns have a political dimension... Were heads to repeatedly act in a similar way with parents and or Ofsted, the consequences would be serious indeed."
Education secretary Damian Hinds defended the department’s use of figures in a response to the Statistics Authority, and pledged to work closely with it to ensure “all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the right context”.