Scottish Office ghosts;Letter

12th March 1999 at 00:00
IN YOUR report (TESS, March 5) on schools that have reduced their targets, you quote Scottish Office estimates that this will mean only 13,200 pupils, rather than 16,500, will achieve better qualifications. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the figures are wrong and do not actually refer to pupils.

Once again you have been caught out by taking Government figures at face value and using them without question.

The figures do not apply to "pupils", as the targets identify improvements in seven different qualifications and a single pupil could well achieve more than one improved qualification, for example both a Standard grade in maths and in English.

As for the numbers, the Government's estimates are reached by totalling the numbers of improved qualifications for each of the seven targets. But the targets are not discrete. For example, an award in Standard grade English (target 1) could contribute to the third target "5+ Standard grades 1-6" and, in this way, the same award could count towards two targets. Therefore, totalling the different targets involves an element of double counting.

When challenged, the Government admitted this to be the case and explained they had undertaken "notional totalling (in) an attempt to simplify for public presentation a complicated table containing seven different figures".

The question then arises, why do they indulge in such practices? Are they deliberately trying to deceive, are they incompetent or non-numerate, or do they have such contempt for people on the outside that they believe no one will notice?

It is, after all, the Government that likes to focus on education by numbers, and either they should get the numbers right or give up using them.

Judith Gillespie Findhorn Place Edinburgh

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