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DfE confirms: the schools Gove said he visited don’t exist

“I’ve visited schools where more—many more—children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But where every child manages to perform well above the national average in numeracy and literacy.”

Michael Gove, Conservative Home, 7 September 2013

That statement puzzled me. When I checked the school performance tables I could only find two schools, one in 2011 and one in 2012, where 100% of pupils achieved above the national average in Key Stage 2 Sats. Neither of these had more than the national average registered as having special educational needs (SEN).  I wrote about it here.

However, I needed to make sure. I hadn’t been able to check the 2010 results easily. Perhaps I’d missed some. So I asked the Department for Education (DfE).

Today I received the delayed findings. The DfE said:

“There were no schools in these years which fit into the category you have described.”

So, Education Secretary, Michael Gove, champion of evidence-based policies, has never visited any school with an above-average proportion of SEN pupils and where every pupil performs “well above the national average in numeracy and literacy” – not in 2010, 2011 or 2012.

Yet he says he has. He said so on Conservative Home.

But no such schools exist.

UPDATE 16.52

Michael Gove made the same claim in his Policy Exchange speech when he named two schools he’d visited:

“In schools like Woodpecker Hall Primary in Edmonton or Durand Academy in Lambeth far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But every child – regardless of the challenges they face – achieves far above the national average in numeracy and literacy.”

This statement was incorrect as discussed here.  However, the speech seems to have been changed.  The statement now says:

“In schools like Cuckoo Hall Primary or Durand Academy far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But the vast majority of children – regardless of the challenges they face – achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy.”

It appears, then, that history has been rewritten.  It’s a good thing Warwick Mansell quoted it in the Guardian or we’d have no proof. 

We really do seem to be in the world of George Orwell.  Winston Smith is alive and working at the DfE (aka the Ministry of Truth, Minitrue).

UPDATE 25 October 2013

The headline has been changed.  It originally read “Gove has visited schools that don’t exist.”

The DfE admitted the Policy Exchange speech had been “updated”.  Under Page History it said:

“Corrected reference to Woodpecker/Cuckoo Hall Academies and Durand Academy for accuracy.13 September 2013 17:51″

Thanks to Miles for pointing this out.

However, the amendment raises the question about how a speech can be “updated”.  Surely a written record of a speech is just that – a written record.  It’s recognised that a speech may vary between draft and delivery, but is it acceptable to change a published record after delivery?  We don’t expect records of speeches in, say, Hansard, to be changed at a later date because they contained inaccurate data which has proved embarrassing for the speaker.

UPDATE 28 October 2013.  For more information about Gove’s misinformation see:

1         Second half of this thread.

2         Myths promoted by the DfE here.

3         The now notorious dodgy surveys used by Gove.

4         Concerns about how the DfE “misunderstands” and “misuses” evidence.

5         How DfE ignores evidence from one of its favourite groups, the Sutton Trust/EEF.




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Comments, replies and queries

  1. Why, Janet, does the outcome of your investigation into the veracity of the great Michael Gove not surprise me? You, but it has to be said on this occasion with the assistance of the DfE, have helped us all further question why the secretary of state remains in power when he clearly lets his own personal agenda for education cloud his judgement. If this is typical of those politicians who have made it to the top of the slippery pole, why should any intelligent individual doubt that those on the way up are even more than likely to lie in order to sit around the trough? Thank you for being so diligent and persistent. If we don’t challenge the system and expose those in power to the full light of day, our democracy will not survive. Keep up the good work.

  2. David Miller says:

    The man is out of touch with the real world and out if his depth. In 34 years of teaching he is by far the worst minister of education I have seen. Thank god I retired, as an assistant head teacher, 5 yrs ago. I pity staff in schools today with a man like Gove in charge.

    • Charles Howie says:

      One problem is that Mr Gove’s boss is no brighter than his employee. Cameron twists in the prevailing wind, a straw man, who doesn’t let evidence trouble him or his ministers.

  3. Rosie Fergusson says:

    and delusional arse-covering inept governors are alive and well in Lowestoft so desperate to avoid academisation and censure they’re prepared to enforce dogma and cant on a whole school population. ON the plus side if they introduce church certificates as part of the admissions process they can watch SEN rates drop , results rise and they can carry on being totally crap.

    HOnestly you couldn’t make it up!

    You couldn’t make it up

  4. It’s not quite Orwell country – the site shows that the Policy Exchange speech page was updated, stating ‘Corrected reference to Woodpecker/Cuckoo Hall Academies and Durand Academy for accuracy. 13 September 2013 17:51′, which is something.

    • Thanks, Miles. I missed that. I’ll add a correction to the thread. I noticed the Policy Exchange speech as published on the DfE website was updated on 13 September. That was after the errors were exposed on this thread dated 11 September.

      But how can you update a speech? Are published versions of speeches in Hansard “updated” because they proved to be embarrassing to a Minister?

      • Richard says:

        I hesitate to point this out for fear of being thought to support Gove, but actually Hansard can be updated if the minister mis-spoke or made a verbal typo, as it were, in order to record what he or she actually meant to say. For example if you confused “Woodpecker” with “Cuckoo” in the heat of the moment you could go back and get Hansard corrected.

        Obviously what Gove is doing goes beyond this and directly into the realms of making things up.

        • Mouserelli says:

          There is also a vast difference between a record being updated to show both the error AND the correction, and pasting over the cracks so the original comment is lost forever. This is called altering the truth and is to be abhorred in a so-called democracy (plutocracy, more like).

  5. Well researched article and a joy to read. We know all that is wrong but it takes a lot of time to research the previous comments, articles and reports so thank you. The fact the there is no evidence to support anything that Gove does, (anything I repeat) is one of the most disturbing things about this man. He purports ideology and nothing else. “I believe” he and many of the ConDems cry. “I don’t want you to ‘believe’ ” I shout back at my media channel, “I want you to have collected your facts, gathered your evidence and made a commitment to do the best that you can for our children and teachers!”

  6. Gove’s sole qualification (no pun intended) for being Secretary of State for schools in England is that he wrote leader columns for The Times and is a close friend of Rupert Murdoch. As a Tory he is a neoliberal extremist, as far from mainstream Conservatives like Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine as you can get while still remaining in the same organisation. Like Osborne and Cameron he is urbane and young which masks the deep ideological commitment to neoliberalism red in tooth and claw. For him, the market is always right, even when it isn’t, and anything that can be sold off should be. Small government, small-minded, wistful yearning for Victorian era values when the oiks knew their place and rich people were, well, left alone. We now have the taxpayer paying for academies and free schools which are accountable only to him as SoS. Private education on the rates. Nice one….

  7. Brian says:

    Agree almost entirely with your post Stephen but I don’t think we’re getting ‘private education on the rates.’ I think we’re getting the most centrally controlled schools in the history of this country. A Tory win at the election, Gove still Minister and we have every school in the country, all forced to be academies, controlled by one man. (Actually I don’t believe that because I’m sure the DfE is working closely with Church authorities to enable the Diocese education boards across England to offer a range of services to all schools … a sort of religious LEA system!)

  8. Craig says:

    I wrote to Gove about his speech where he said that school terms were based on the Agricultural Calendar. David Laws wrote back saying he actually said it “hasn’t changed since Agricultural times”. As agriculture is a necessity for human existence this is a nonsense time period that we have always have and currently still are in. I wrote back saying he was changing history and lying but he wrote back restating the same lie. Don’t be surprised.

  9. Lucy Johnson says:

    Thanks for taking the time and trouble to do this work.

  10. mike says:

    I am equally concerned that a school with many special needs children is called Cuckoo Hall….

  11. Felicity Merchant says:

    When will people realise that the national average means just that? Whatever the mean score is, there are bound to be about 30% of the population tested who are below average.

    • Ben Taylor says:

      If the distribution is a bell shape yes. But is it that shape? Should it be?

      If we want a minimum standard for nearly all children the curve looks like a curve sawn in half vertically.

      And what if the whole distribution is not in the right place – the whole bell curve needing to move?

      • DavidB says:

        “Average” can be defined in a lot of different ways, and it only one definition (median) is the value in the middle. Somehow I doubt whether Gove’s knowledge of maths is good enough to appreciate this…

        • Paul Howard says:

          In everyday use, I would suggest that “average” is nearly always meant to mean either median, mean or mode. In a Normal distribution (and it would be reasonable to assume the distribution of scores in National Curriculum tests to be Normal) all three sorts of “average” would take the same value and be in the middle. Of course, assigning “levels” to ranges of scores makes things a bit more complicated. To be fair, I doubt that Gove’s understanding of statistics is much better or worse than that of the typical person or indeed the typical non-maths/science teacher: virtually non-existent.

    • Paul Howard says:

      Not strictly speaking – assuming a Normal distribution of scores, 50% will be below average and 50% above.

      However, you essential point is clearly valid, and on average, about half of any population measured against any criterion, will by definition be below average. Half of all teachers are shorter than the average teacher, half of all Ministers have a lower IQ than the average Minister (and vice versa) etc etc.

      My memory (I had children at primary school when the National Tests started) is that the “expected level” was set at a value that it was expected about 70% of pupils would meet or exceed.

      This expected level is often misleadingly equated some sort of “average” (and almost never mean, medial or mode – although of course these will take the same values if the distribution is Normal). I think the press found the term “expected level” to complex, and used “average” as a proxy, and politicians and, alas, most teachers have followed them.

  12. More misrepresentation – Lord Nash has been accused of giving false information to the Lords about the performance of free schools. He tried to deflect criticism by saying he was comparing the 24 free schools inspected by Ofsted in 2012/13 with other schools inspected in the same period.

    But the noble Lord forgets that inspections of other schools was proportionate to risk ie they were more likely to have been previously judged Satisfactory or Inadequate. Free schools, on the other hand, had never been inspected before. So he’s comparing a group of schools which were an unknown quantity with a group of schools more likely to have been judged Satisfactory or Inadequate.

    In any case, a sample size of 24 is too small to come to any sort of conclusion. The noble Lord and Michael Gove should be intelligent enough to know that.

    Lies, damn lies and rhetoric.

  13. enfield teacher says:

    Cuckoo hall had amongst the worst results Enfield this summer. Not so outstanding academy now! Perhaps they are just like the rest of us battling with challenges that effect all schools. I wonder if Gove will visit this year!

    • Or maybe the expansion of the CHAT academy group (which now includes a secondary school) means attention has been deflected away from education.

  14. Keith Burt says:

    Fantastic research. Do you mind if I quote this in my own piece about Goves issues with education?

    • Keith – sorry for delay in replying. You’re very welcome to quote this article as long as LSN is credited. The more people who become aware of this kind of misrepresentation the better.

  15. ric bateman says:

    Michael Gove (Walter Mitty)

  16. Gove being even more ‘liberal with the truth’ than most politicians is sadly no longer news, is it? I blogged ages back about his speeches contradicting his own claims. The danger I this case is, indeed, that his department are concealing his mistakes/exaggerations/lies after the fact. Sad that when we now point out the inaccuracies, we’ll have to copy the source in case of editing.

  17. Wolf Baginski says:

    Gove has a habit of using “average” in a very careless way. It might make sense if he was referring to the 2010 average as a target for today, but that is not what he says.

    The government does not want schools to turn out people who can ask awkward questions. So they will teach MS Word but not programming, calculus but not statistics. It was Terry Wogan and Paul Daniels who taught me how bookmaking worked, and the principles of the classic con games. That is the sort of critical thinking which politicians hate.

  18. Graham Dane says:

    The Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ specialise in this sort of research into figures quoted in speeches and public statements. They have a name for statistics which have been shown to be false but keep being quoted in speeches: ‘Zombie Statistics’.

  19. The Telegraph picked up this story this morning (see link below). There was no mention that this website was the source of its story.

    The Telegraph wrote ‘Gove’s spokesman tells me: “Our website makes clear that the published version of the speech was corrected for accuracy. The Secretary of State mistakenly cited Woodpecker Hall, instead of Cuckoo Hall. Both Durand and Cuckoo Hall have far more children than the national average registered as having special educational needs and 90 per cent and 94 per cent (respectively) of their pupils achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy.’

    But Gove’s spokesman is still wrong. Durand doesn’t have above the average number of SEN pupils. It had 4% in the 2012 cohort which is far below the national average of 11% and the Lambeth average of 17% (for evidence see link to school performance tables on my newest thread asking if it’s acceptable to rewrite speeches after they’d been made).

  20. I have just left the following comment under the Telegraph’s story:

    “Mr Gove misled the Policy Exchange audience. He misled readers of Conservative Home where he made the same claim but without naming the schools. This is not the first time Gove has spread misinformation. He’s been censured by the UK Statistics Watchdog for his misuse of international test data. He’s used dodgy surveys to underpin his claim that English teenagers were ignorant of history (that was the first Mr Sloppy incident). He’s wrong about the performance of academies.
    For more information about the myths peddled by Gove see the update on the Local Schools Network at the bottom of the thread which broke the original story of Gove’s visits to non-existent schools:

    I post as ex-SecondaryModernTeacher. It appears that my earlier comments have disappeared. How long will this one last?

    I’d be grateful if anyone could check and see if there are any comments from ex-SecondaryModernTeacher on the DT.

  21. Parent2_Richmond says:

    No comments showing from ex-SecondaryModernTeacher!

    But there is one that says: ‘Off topic, you hang a crescent symbol over an issue allow minimum comments then close it down for future commenting, current democracy at work.’

    • Parent2 – thanks. I’ve just posted the comment again but this time I missed off the link in case that was causing a problem. I’ll check later and see if it’s still there.

    • Parent2 – I’ve posted three comments and they’re all still there at the moment. I think the inclusion of a link to LSN might have caused the removal of the originals.

  22. […] the schools he highlighted don’t exist. And no amount of changing the wording of a speech after it has been made will alter that […]

  23. What do the experienced posters on here see for the future of Kings Academy ?

    If Sajid Raza is convicted of any wrongdoing , would you expect it to be a simple case of a new headmaster coming in. Or could this lead to the possibility of this school closing in the future ?

    And what would happen if a Labour Government comes into power in the next election.

    • aimar – according to the academy’s website there is an interim headteacher, Haroon Hussain.

      The local MP has criticised the school for saying Sajid Raza has been released without charge when he’s been released on bail.

      You’d have to write to the Department for Education to find out what could happen to the academy. It could allow the governing body to continue or it could replace the trust behind the academy (Kifsa Ltd) with another academy sponsor. Al-Madinah school in Derby hasn’t been closed but another academy chain has been parachuted in to try and turn it round.

      • The governers and Raza himself haven’t done themselves any favours with the statements they have made now and in the past.

        It’s a shame because I have heard that they provide a good education, and I was considering applying there for my son next year – not so sure now.

      • Brian says:

        ‘Al-Madinah school in Derby hasn’t been closed …’

        It has now, or at least the secondary school part of it has. I suspect Barry Day (Chair of the Greenwood Dale Trust) will have fallen off Gove’s Christmas card list. He was on local TV news explaining the decision to close the school and noting that the LEA has been extremely helpful in supporting pupils and families needing a school place elsewhere even though they were under no obligation to do so. Mr. G. won’t like that comment.

  24. Adrian says:

    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, run the Department of Education.

  25. Sean Joyce says:

    The above mentioned Schools do exist, my son attends one. 20% of the children have special educational needs, but academic performance places the school in the top 150 in the UK.

    • Henry Stewart says:

      Sean, Your school sounds great. Do let us know which it is. But it still doesn’t meet Gove’s criteria unless 100% of children (“every child”) achieved level 5. And that is what the DfE confirmed, that no school with above average SEN had 100% of children achieving level 5.

    • Melanie Dunford says:

      but 20% is a normal amount of special needs children to have in a school

  26. Melanie Wilberforce says:

    just FYI I came here from facebook, it’s not been posted on a specific page on facebook that I am aware of, it’s just spreading virally by status sharing through teachers, parents, students, their friends or other individuals who think Gove is a knobend…

  27. […] so busy visiting non-existent schools, though, Gove really hasn’t thought through the consequences at all. Fortunately, Richmal […]

  28. Bob Fox says:

    It is a mistake to equate special educational needs with learning difficulties. A child with a physical disability or sensory impairment will have a special need which is in need of support, but there is no specific reason why they should not achieve the same as everyone else in terms of ‘educational standards’. A child with profound learning difficulties is extremely unlikely to do so. I doubt that Gove understands this.

  29. […] to strike to their desire to curb peaceful political protests, from Gove’s attempts to falsify information and then rewrite history to hide his tracks to their incredible attempts today to rebrand themselves as the worker’s […]

  30. […] confirms: the schools Gove said he visited don’t exist (2013) Available at: (Accessed: 2 November […]

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