We’re in Alice in Wonderland: what DfE said education minister said isn’t what he said

Janet Downs's picture
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At the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the March Hare tells Alice that she should say what she means.

‘I do,’ Alice replied; ‘at least—at least I mean what I say—that’s the same thing, you know.’

Does our new Education Secretary Damian Hinds mean what he says?  Or, rather, does he say what the Department for Education (DfE) says he says?

Yesterday, the DfE issued a press release  announcing that Hinds would open the Education World Forum.  It said:

‘Speaking at the Education World Forum… Education Secretary Damian Hinds said…’

This was followed by quotations:

  • The robotic soundbite about ‘1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010’. 
  • How England’s recent performance in PIRLS puts the country’s results ‘on a global scale’. (A meaningless statement – the PIRLS results are given on a global scale and England’s results would have been on the scale whether they were at the top or bottom.)
  • A plug for Mastery teaching and the Mandarin Excellence Programme.  (But while the EEF  Toolkit found mastery learning had good potential, studies showed the impact of maths mastery could range from ‘up to six months’ gain’ to ‘little or no impact’.)  
  • ‘Education is also one of our country’s biggest export earners’.  (This raises the spectre of the ‘toxic’ idea raised in 2013 that foreign students could buy places in English state schools.)

But the actual speech, which wasn’t on the DfE website when the press release was published, contained none of these.  

DfE publicists, then, told the press that the education secretary said things in his speech that he didn’t actually say.  It could be, of course, that the omitted quotes were in the original draft and were scrubbed out.  This could have been avoided if the press department had waited until the speech was delivered.

In any case, Damian Green needs to get a grip on the DfE press department.  It would be rather unfortunate if his publicists keep misquoting him.  Especially so, since many of the words are closely associated with his schools minister Nick Gibb.

Why the mismatch?  We’d have to ask the person who wrote the press release.  But it’s odd that Hinds’ actual speech was heavy with references to skills while the press release mentioned them only once.

Gibb is, as we know, loathes skills.   

Fortunately, most of the media seems to have read the speech rather than rely on the DfE press release.  But it’s disturbing that someone seems to be putting words in Hinds’ mouth.

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