EVER been taken in by Scottish Executive statistics?
As pupils prepare for the postie's exam delivery next week, Government figures appear to show independent schools hauling away from state secondaries in rates of improvement at Higher, although both sectors have made progress in the target-setting era.
A school attainment bulletin shows that in 1992-93, 19 per cent of state pupils gained three or more A-C passes, rising to 21 per cent in 1998-99. Over the same period, the fee-paying sector increased its percentage from 50 to 60, a clear 10-point gain against a two-point advance.
Hold on, says Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, who this week was again quickly on her calculator. You are not comparing like with like. Far from independents zipping away, state secondaries are making more improvements proportionately.
Reinterpreting the Executie's figures, she explains: "In 1992-93, 85.6 per cent of youngsters getting three or more Highers came from local authority schools, compared with 14.4 per cent from independent schools. By 1998-99, the proportion from state schools had increased to 86.6 per cent, with a corresponding fall in those coming from the independent sector."
Mrs Gillespie believes the discrepancy has arisen because over the seven-year period the number of state pupils rose by around 3 per cent against a drop of 12 per cent in the independent sector, figures not in the bulletin. "Once allowance has been made, the increases in both sectors are about 3 per cent, although the increase in the state sector is proportionately greater because they start from a lower base."
Mrs Gillespie muses: "This is a classic example of how figures tell the truth and yet tell the wrong story."
Any more reinterpretations?