UK Statistics Authority slams DfE's use of misrepresenting figures

Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has written to the education secretary about the Department for Education’s misleading use of stats.

The letter said: "My attention has been drawn to a recent tweet and blog issued by the Department regarding education funding.

"As the Authority’s Director General for Regulation has noted in a letter to the Department today, figures were presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding.

"In the tweet, school spending figures were exaggerated by using a truncated axis, and by not adjusting for per pupil spend.

"In the blog about government funding of schools (which I note your Department has now updated), an international comparison of spend which included a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools was used, rather than a comparison of school spending alone.

"The result was to give a more favourable picture. Yet the context would clearly lead readers to expect that the figures referred to spending on schools."

Norgrove also wrote of a concern over the DfE claims of the number of children in high performing schools, saying it “does not give a full picture”.

The letter said: “It 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, as an earlier letter to the Department from the Office of Statistics Regulation pointed out.”

The letter also brought up the inaccuracy of the recent international survey of reading abilities of nine-year-olds, where the education sectretary Nick Gibb said England “leapfrogged up the rankings last year, after decades of falling standards, going from 19th out of 50 countries to 8th.”

It said: "This is not correct. Figures published last year show the increase was from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016."

Defending the claims, Nick Gibbs said in a letter: “On overall school funding, core funding is rising to £43.5 billion by 2019-20. Of course, I recognise that pupil numbers are rising, we are asking schools to do more and schools are facing cost pressures. I am on record setting this out with a range of different audiences and agree that context is important.

“Regarding the 1.9 million statistic, I believe it is important to establish that the proportion of children in schools whose last Ofsted judgement was good or outstanding has risen from 66 per cent in 2010 to 86 per cent in March 2018; to make this more intelligible we tend to use the number of children rather than a percentage figure – hence we express it as 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools.”

Regarding the child literacy claims, Damian Hinds admitted the government “could have been clearer”.

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