Ministerial deflection and DfE dodgy data begin the academic year
Education Secretary Justine Greening gave a classic example of deflection yesterday. She avoided a question about the collapse of Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) and the role underfunding might have played by comparing the funding formula with what might have happened if Labour had won the election. This was followed by the oft-repeated ‘Nine out of 10 schools are good or outstanding’. But this figure doesn’t apply to the highly-academized secondary sector where the proportion was 79% (as at 31 March).
When asked again about WCAT, Greening replied by referring to Wales. (Note to Ed Sec: Wakefield is not in Wales).
Yvette Cooper, whose constituency contains a WCAT academy, told Greening her reply was ‘just not good enough’. Cooper asked for a ‘full review of the complete failure of local accountability in these multi-academy trusts’.
Greening briefly said the DfE was ‘taking swift action’ to rebroker WCAT academies (but at what cost, Ed Sec?) before launching an attack on Labour’s education policies in government. Greening then revisited Wales.
The DfE said 29% of free schools were outstanding – a proportion higher than other state-funded schools. But the DfE didn’t say free schools were also more likely to require improvement or be inadequate. Mansell said the DfE had ‘a duty to present Ofsted statistics in the round’.
This advice had been given to the DfE by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) in July. UKSA urged the DfE to use free school inspection statistics with caution. UKSA said improvements could have been made in the way the DfE presented these statistics particular when making ‘comparative statements linked to inspections rated as outstanding’. The DfE has ignored UKSA’s recommendations.
Mansell also found the DfE was increasing the number of open free schools by including University Technology Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools. But these were missing from the DfE figures about outstanding Ofsted judgements. If they had been included, the proportion of outstanding free schools would have fallen. Mansell wrote:
‘…the DfE, in its press release, has used one set of statistics to make its free school numbers look good, and another dataset to make the policy’s Ofsted ratings look good.’
The DfE claimed there were 500 open free schools. But Mansell found the DfE’s own data showed 473 free schools, including studio schools and UTCs, were open. The 500 number can only be achieved by including free schools which had closed. Inspection judgements for these schools are not included in Ofsted statistics because they no longer exist. This is something I warned about in 2014:
‘…if an Inadequate free school no longer exists, then presumably it won’t appear in statistics about open free schools. The proportion judged Inadequate would fall.’
And so it came to pass…