New Education Secretary made misleading statement to MPs, says UK Watchdog
He’s only been in the job since the beginning of January, but education secretary Damian Hinds has already been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), Schools Week reports.
Hinds told the Commons on 29 January that ‘real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system’. Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner complained to UKSA.
UKSA ruled that while per-pupil funding will grow in cash terms during the next two years, the increase didn’t take into account in cost pressures and inflation. It couldn’t, therefore, be described as a ‘real-terms’ rise.
Sir David Norgrove, UKSA’s head, said the Department for Education (DfE) admitted Hinds’ statement was made ‘in error’ and a correction had been made in Hansard.
The amendment reads:
‘An error has been identified in the response I gave to the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) in Education Questions on 29 January 2018.’
‘The correct response should have been: There is more money going into our schools in this country than ever before. We know that overall real-terms funding per pupil is being maintained between 2017-18 and 2019-20, and with the national funding formula, each school will see at least a small cash increase.’
UKSA said ‘The revised statement is consistent with research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Department for Education’s own published analysis.’
But the watchdog's footnote only referred to the amendment about funding. UKSA didn’t notice Hinds’ correction ignored a second UKSA criticism.
Hinds had told MPs ‘each school will see at least a small cash increase’. UKSA complained the use of the word ‘will’ was ‘perhaps too strong’. The watchdog recommended substituting ‘On average will’ or ‘could’ for the word ‘will’. This form of words ‘would have been more precise’, UKSA said.
But the DfE has ignored UKSA’s guidance.
It’s not the first time the DfE has claimed that incorrect statements by ministers had been made in error. In 2015, the DfE claimed a statement made by the then education secretary Nicky Morgan to about international test data had been a ‘misstatement’ caused by a breakdown in ‘quality assurance’.
On 12 July 2016, schools minister Nick Gibb repeated the same discredited data. According to the DfE, he had done so ‘inadvertently’ and told UKSA the claim would be corrected. I checked this morning. There are no ministerial corrections listed on Hansard’s website for 12 July 2016. Gibb’s ‘mistatement’ still remains uncorrected.
If these ‘misstatements’ weren’t bad enough, we saw the bizarre situation in January when the DfE issued a press release which put words in Hinds’ mouth. This untruthful news story is still on the DfE website.
Hinds will need to get a grip on the DfE media department and on those who brief him. It is not enough to claim errors were ‘misstatements’ after they have been made. And repeating a ‘misstatement’ after UKSA warnings suggests an attempt to mislead.