Schools Minister woos next generation of voters by telling them they’re not good enough

Janet Downs's picture
Nick Gibb really hasn’t got a grasp of statistics.   Just two weeks since he cleared a press release which contained a table saying that 77 minus 73 equalled 15, he now releases another one with dodgy stats.

“England’s 15-year-olds’ reading is more than a year behind the best,” shrieks the headline.  DfE number-crunchers have studied the 2009 PISA results and found that the top-performing territories of Shanghai and Korea are more than a year ahead of England in reading and this, apparently, means that pupils in Shanghai could get 11 more GCSE grades than those in England.  That’s not 11 more GCSEs, but 11 more GCSE grades.   This means that a pupil with eight C grades could boost their score to three As and five Bs, so says the press release.  How this would work with pupils already gaining three As and five Bs is not explained.  Perhaps the DfE envisages super-grades: A***.

Mr Gibb repeats the tired, worn-out mantra: “England has tumbled down the international tables in the last nine years – from 7th to 25th in reading…”  Mr Gibb knows that the OECD has said the 2000 figures can’t be used for comparison but that warning doesn’t stop him.   Yes, UK pupils were 25th in reading but Mr Gibb is discussing England not the UK as a whole.   In the league tables England was actually 23rd= in reading with Denmark and Chinese-Taipei.   If Mr Gibb had looked at the correct figures then he would have found that England was slightly above the OECD average in reading and that England’s performance in 2009 didn’t differ much from the 2006 results.  And he missed some excellent news.  The PISA 2009 tests split reading into sub-sections such as “reflect and evaluate”.  In this sub-section and the one for reading non-continuous text, English pupils were significantly above the OECD average.  But instead of praising English pupils for this achievement he says “the gulf between our 15-year-olds’ reading ability and those from other countries is stark”.

English pupils scored the OECD average in Maths but Mr Gibb likes to be negative.  He didn’t even praise English students for achieving above-average in Science – instead he focused on those countries which were “significantly ahead of England’s 15-year-olds” in Science.

If I were a UK 15-year-old in 2009, I would be getting a little annoyed at the constant rubbishing of my achievements by this government.  But by the time of the next election, I would be able to vote.


1 The press release contained a link to the DfE publications site where researchers could find their analysis of the PISA 2009 results.  The publication could not be found.

2 Thanks to the LSN pointing out his error in the earlier press release, the table with the incorrect calculation has now been put right (but a copy still remains on our site for reference).   However, the DfE still hasn’t been able to sort out the mismatch between numbers in the two tables on its press release.  But that would necessitate rewriting the whole thing.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 16/10/2011 - 16:10

The link in the press release to the DfE analysis still does not lead to the actual document. However, a Google search found a brief version. The summary found that “Nine countries scored statistically significantly higher than England across all three strands of the PISA assessment [reading, maths, science] … these were: Shanghai-China, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.”

So, only 9 out of 65 countries (68 if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are included) scored statistically higher that England in all three subjects of reading, maths and science. However, the table in the study includes four extra countries - the reason for their inclusion is unclear. Perhaps to make England's achievement look worse than it was. (short version)

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 16/10/2011 - 16:12

The full version of the study says: “Pupils in England scored an average of 495 points in the PISA 2009 reading assessment; 493 points in mathematics and 515 points in science. Although all scores were slightly higher than the average across the OECD countries, the difference was not statistically significant.”

I am surprised that the statisticians who analysed the PISA 2009 data didn’t notice that the English score of 515 points in science was actually significantly statistically ABOVE the OECD average. It is made quite clear in the PISA 2009 table published by the OECD.

The tables on pages 19-21 of the long version purport to show all the countries which took part in PISA 2009. As England has been separated from the rest of the United Kingdom then I would have expected to see the other three countries that make up the UK also listed separately. But they haven’t been included. No reason is given for this omission.

Both the long and the short versions of the study have this disclaimer:

“The views expressed in this report are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department for Education.”

Really – I thought it was obvious that the report exactly reflects the views of the DfE. I doubt it would have been published otherwise. (full version)

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