DfE faces criticism over grammar school tweets

The Department for Education’s (DfE’s) press office has faced heavy criticism for tweets promoting new grammar schools, which many have described as misleading.

One tweet read: “70% of white working class boys from grammars go to uni vs 54% from comprehensives. What do you think about grammars”

The UK Statistics Authority identified issues with the content of the tweet, concluding that it was not ‘not a fair representation of the underlying statistics’.

The issues it highlighted included the labelling of ‘working class boys’, as the DfE does not collect information on pupils’ socio-economic status and the statistics quoted were actually about white make students who were eligible for free school meals in year 11.

UK Statistics Authority also highlighted the selective nature of grammar schools means a the tweet is ‘not making a like for like comparison between the two types of school’, adding that it was ‘disappointed’ that the DfE published the statistics in the form.

The tweet has now been removed, but a second tweet has also drawn criticism. It read: “Selective schools are almost 50% more popular than non-selective schools when comparing a parent’s first preference for their child”

Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, has condemned the tweet, along with Conservative peer Lord Lucas, who described described it as ‘untruthful, misleading and a stain on [the DfE’s] reputation’.

Speaking to the Guardian, Lucas said: “I do not think the DfE should be putting out stuff which is so wrong it’s not even arguable. The DfE has some good statisticians who know what these figures mean, but some low life on the PR side seems to think they can completely misinterpret data.”