“Facts are chiels that winna ding” – Mr Gove quotes Burns

Janet Downs's picture
“But facts are fellows that will not be overturned,/And cannot be disputed” is the English translation of a line in Robert Burns’s poem, “The Dream”. Mr Gove quoted it when he gave evidence (uncorrected) to the Education Select Committee on 31 January 2012. But can some of his facts be disputed? Below is a selection of dubious statistics:

Mr Gove: “…all those schools that have taken on academy freedoms are engaged in working with or collaborating with other schools to help them to raise standards more broadly.”

No, they’re not. Only 3% of converter academies are helping weaker schools.

Mr Gove: “…One of the striking things about what has happened in academies and in free schools is that you have often seen a move towards better adult:child and teacher:pupil ratios as resources have been used more effectively.”

The difference between class size in academies and non-academies is insignificant. The figures for average class sizes in England in 2011: maintained primary schools: 26.6, primary academies 27.7; maintained secondary schools 20.6, secondary academies 19.4.

Mr Gove: “The number of children educated in grammar schools rose under the Labour government because of population growth,”

Mr Gove was talking about the number of children educated in selective schools, not proportion. If, as he claimed, the number of children in grammar schools grew in line with population growth then the proportion of pupils would be expected to remain the same. But it didn’t – it rose. The proportion of pupils in grammar schools between 1997 and 2008 grew from 4.2% to 4.8% according to a House of Commons briefing paper.

But was Mr Gove correct in saying that the number of secondary school pupils also grew? Yes, for the period 1997 to 2003 but after 2003 numbers began to fall.

A Parliamentary Written Answer showed that the number of Y7 pupils in 2006 was 569,253 of which 21,895 were in grammar schools (3.8%). Numbers of Y7 pupils continued to fall in 2007 and 2008, rose in 2009 and fell in 2010 to its lowest level in five years: 549,725. In 2010, the proportion in grammar schools reached 4% although the actual number was only 175 more than in 2006 – that’s about one extra pupil in each of the 164 grammar schools.

Readers will notice that the proportions given in the written answer do not tally with the briefing paper. Nevertheless, it’s possible to conclude that Mr Gove is right to say that the number of grammar school pupils rose slightly but this was not because of a corresponding rise in population.

Mr Gove likes to quote statistics – but perhaps he should check them before spouting them so confidently.


Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Jim Paton's picture
Fri, 07/11/2014 - 12:25

Ha! They werenae chiels an no anely hiv they bin dinged, but treadit in the glaur. Gove wisnae a chiel aither an has noo bin weil dingit hissel!

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.