Schools Minister puts negative spin on KS1 figures, but DfE gets stats wrong

Janet Downs's picture
 2
“Thousands of children behind in the 3Rs by age seven,” said the headline on the DfE press release about the number of Key State 1 (KS1) pupils achieving the expected grade of Level 2.  The press release contained a table which showed the percentage of pupils on free school meals (FSM) compared with all other pupils.  The table, which gave the attainment gap, is reproduced below:

 

2011

   
  FSM pupils All other pupils Attainment gap
Reading 73 77 15
Writing 67 85 18
Mathematics 81 92 11


Eagle-eyed LSN readers and all 7 year-olds whether or not they achieved the expected level will have noticed an error in the first line.

Perhaps it was just a typo so I checked with another table in the same press release.  This contradicted the figures for all pupils in the table above: reading was 85%, writing 81% and mathematics 90%.   But 85% - 73% still doesn't equal 15.  I continued checking.  “DfE: National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 1 in England, 2011” gave figures for all pupils and those on FSM.   This data showed that the FSM figures in the above table were given correctly and confirmed that the figures for all pupils were incorrectly quoted.    So the attainment gaps were 12% (reading), 14% (writing) and 9% (maths).

So where did the attainment gaps of 15%, 18% and 11% come from?  I found them on a table on page 7 of “Statistical First Release: National Key Stage 1 teacher assessment results for 2011 by pupil characteristics for maintained schools”.  But the text above the table says that in reading 88% of all pupils…

No, I can’t go on.  Suffice it to say that the figures on page 7 of the “Stats First Release” do not correspond with the figures in “DfE: National Curriculum Assessments”.   And the “Stats First Release” figures on page 7 are contradicted by a block graph on page 4 of the same document.

There is a caveat on the press release – the figures are provisional, which is just as well considering that someone has blundered.  But that doesn’t stop Mr Gibb using provisional figures to present a negative picture.   Instead of congratulating teachers and the large majority of pupils who gained the expected level, he damns this achievement with faint praise – “many children are doing well,” although he did change this to “most children” towards the end of the press release.

Is this evidence that neither Mr Gibb nor the DfE have reached the expected standard of reliability?  Or is it that the DfE is so chaotic that no-one checked the press release before publication?  Even a perfunctory glance should have seen the error in the table.  English 7 year-olds would have.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/03/2012 - 10:54

UPDATE: The DfE has corrected the figures in its chart. However, the table above, which was cut-and-pasted from the DfE website when the press release was published, will remain as evidence of the inability of whoever published the data to reach the level of maths expected on a seven-year-old.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/10/2014 - 14:57

UPDATE The DfE press release has now disappeared from its website. Click on the link above and you will get a 'Page not found' message. However, I've dug up a copy which has the original arithmetical error that the belatedly DfE corrected and which I pointed out above. It's here (scroll down to table headed 'Level 2 or above: percentage of pupils on free school meals compared with all other pupils').


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