Misrepresentation, rhetoric and a grammatical error, another Gove article – this time in the Guardian

Janet Downs's picture
“…evidence shows free schools are driving standards up across the board

Michael Gove 31 August 2013

Where is the evidence that free schools raise results in other schools? There’s been no research and it’s too early to say in any case. But I’ve asked the Department for Education (DfE) for the data in case I’ve missed it.

The first free schools, Gove wrote, “are outperforming the rest of the country. The proportion that are (sic*) good or outstanding outstrips other state schools.”

So what’s the proportion that’s outstripping other state schools? 75% of free schools were good or better. This contrasts with 70% of other state schools. But 24 is only a small sample – if one more free school had been judged “requires improvement” or “inadequate” then the proportion would have dropped to 70%. 3% of other state schools were judged inadequate – 4% of free schools were. But that’s only one school – this shows how misleading it is to base conclusions on such a small sample.

Gove wrote his reforms were “rooted in evidence, not ideology.” But Gove’s attitude to evidence is dodgy: the Statistics Authority censured his use of international education data; he ignored warnings from academics not to apply their findings about sponsored academies to converter academies; he’s made statements about academies which aren’t underpinned by evidence; he misled the Spectator conference about school hours in the far east and he used dubious surveys to “prove” English teenagers were clueless about History despite Ofsted’s findings to the contrary.

“Conservatives support free schools because they devolve power to Burke's little platoons. Liberals support free schools because they embody John Stuart Mill's vision of the state paying for universal education through schools run by autonomous bodies,” wrote Gove.

But not all first-wave free schools were opened by “little platoons”. 6 are in academy chains, 5 were existing independent schools and 5 were set up by faith groups. Free schools are academies and they don’t have much more autonomy than non-academy schools: the Academies Commission confirmed all English schools have considerable freedom and maintained schools can do most things academies can do.

Non-academy school can’t opt-out of the National Curriculum, of course. Nevertheless, Gove praised his proposals:

Everything I am doing is driven by getting more children – especially the poorest children – to succeed academically, which is why I published a new draft national curriculum last month...”

He seems to have forgotten he’s allowed academies and free schools to opt-out of his National Curriculum. So he’s praising a curriculum which his favoured schools can ignore (at least in theory) because they can innovate. But free schools tend to be more traditional and innovation is hampered not by lack of freedom but by league tables.

Do Gove’s free schools help the disadvantaged? FullFact concluded that who really benefits from free schools is still “open to question”.

Free schools can “hire the best people to teach, irrespective of union-imposed dogma,” Gove wrote. Is he unaware that the dubious freedom for academies and free schools to employ untrained personnel as teachers is not welcomed by parents? And is he so out-of-touch that he doesn’t realise it’s his own department, not the unions, which insists, rightly, that teachers in maintained schools must have Qualified Teacher Status?

It seems that Gove is getting carried away with his own rhetoric.

UPDATE 2 August 2013.  The BBC wrote:

“Ofsted data shows that, on 31 March, 79% of all state schools in England were good or outstanding, 19% required improvement and 3% were inadequate.”

On this analysis, other state schools were outperforming free schools as a group.  But as the number of free schools inspected is only 24, a different inspection result one way or the other would have a disproportionate effect on the overall percentage.  It’s unclear, then, what Gove thought he had to gain from trumpeting the Ofsted results of 24 schools, 19 of which have only been operating for two years (the remaining 5 were existing independent schools) and some of which haven’t got a full cohort of pupils yet.

UPDATE 9 Augst 2013

FullFact looked at Gove's claim that free schools were outperforming other state schools.  It concluded:

"...we should be cautious about reading too much into the relatively marginal difference between the Ofsted performance data. 24 schools is a very small number to draw any firm conclusions from, particularly when we also consider the variety of social and environmental factors that can have an effect on how a school performs."



For more information about Gove’s misrepresentations see Gove v Reality.

*Shouldn’t that be “the proportion that is…” (proportion being a singular subject)?  I don’t normally pick up grammatical errors.  It’s easy to make typos – I’ve made some myself.  But I know that Mr Gove is a stickler for such things.  Perhaps he should consult his own Golden Rules.

Disclaimer: discussing Ofsted’s results does not imply that I agree with them.

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