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Hinds: concern over stats about 'context', not numbers

Education secretary defends his department on The Andrew Marr Show over criticism on misleading statistics

Hinds grilled over DfE use of statistics

The education secretary has said that the UK statistics watchdog’s serious concerns about his department’s use of figures has “in the main” been not about “wrong numbers” but “political context”.

Last year, the UK Statistics Authority reprimanded the Department of Education for using misleading figures to make itself look better not just once, but four times in the course of the 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.

However in an interview with the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show this morning, Damian Hinds – while admitting “you never want to be the person who is criticised” – defended his department against Mr Marr’s conclusion that “something serious has gone wrong”.

Background: UK stats watchdog investigates DfE funding claims

The problem: Four ways the DfE misled the public

The response: 'We need to improve', says DfE in stats row

Mr Hinds said: “Statistics play an important part in our public debate and it’s good we have the UK Statistics Authority monitoring these things.

“You never want to be the person who is criticised. Actually, I don’t think this has been in the main part saying numbers are wrong, sometimes there’s a complaint about the political context.”

Mr Marr then went on to list the statistics concern had been raised over, including per-pupil funding, the national funding formula, international comparisons of spending and Ofsted rankings.

Mr Hinds continued: “There has been some debate – and that’s perfectly legitimate – about how you present these things contextually and if you talk about international comparisons – for example if you compare spending on education in this country compared to other G7 countries – we are at the same level or higher than other G7 countries, apart from the United States.

“It is also true there is a higher proportion of children now in schools most recently rated 'good' or 'outstanding'.”

During the interview, Mr Hinds also branded “inappropriate” the accusations of “social engineering” from a private school head over moves to increase the number of state school pupils being admitted to Oxbridge.

Anthony Wallersteiner, of the £12,000-a-term Stowe school in Buckinghamshire, said in an interview with The Times that private school pupils were being edged out by participation and access plans, resulting in some private school parents making claims about “social engineering”.

Mr Hinds, however, said he celebrated the fact state school children were being given “a fair crack of the whip”, pointing out the vast majority of pupils attended state schools.

He said: “I do celebrate more state school children having the opportunity to go to universities like Oxford and Cambridge – I think that’s a great thing. The heart of my philosophy is to promote social mobility; where you come from should not dictate where you end up.”

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