Gove does the impossible – he appears to have visited schools that don’t exist

Janet Downs's picture
“I’ve visited schools where more—many more—children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But where every child manages to perform well above the national average in numeracy and literacy.”

Michael Gove, 7 September 2013

Which schools have above the national average of children with special needs (SEN) and where every pupil achieves above the national average of Level 4 in Key Stage 2 Sats for English and Maths?

The Education Secretary names two in his Policy Exchange speech: Woodpecker Hall Primary and Durand Academy. The average number of SEN pupils (7.9%) in primary schools in 2012 was exceeded by Woodpecker Hall (11.7% SEN pupils) but not by Durand Academy (2.8%) which had the lowest proportion in Lambeth bar one. In neither of these schools did every child achieve Level 5 or above English and Maths. Woodpecker Hall didn’t open until September 2011 and entered no pupils for Sats. At Durand, 34% achieved Level 5. 34% is not “every child”.

Is there any primary school in England where 100% of pupils gained Level 5 or above in 2012 in Maths and English? There was one: Ashurst CofE primary, a tiny Voluntary Aided school in Steyning, West Sussex. There were 57 pupils on roll in 2012; 6 pupils took Sats. No child had special educational needs.

Perhaps Gove is thinking of 2011? At Durand 33% of pupils achieved Level 5 in the two subjects (33% is not “every child”) and there were 3.2% SEN pupils.

Was there any primary school in England where 100% of pupils gained Level 5 or above in 2011? There was one: St Margaret’s CofE Voluntary Controlled school in Toppesfield, Essex, which had 53 pupils on roll. The number taking Key Stage 2 Sats was so low that figures for middle and high attainers were suppressed. There were no low attainers in the 2011 cohort but 11.3% of pupils in the school were SEN.

Perhaps Gove is going back further to 2010? School performance tables for 2010 don’t give the figures for regions only local authorities. This makes the data difficult to search.

So, maybe Gove visited a school with a higher-than-average number of SEN pupils and where every pupil gained Level 5 in both Maths and English in 2010. If so, perhaps the DfE could let us know.

It appears, then, that such schools don’t exist. If so, it would be impossible for the Education Secretary to have visited them.

If Gove is mistaken about visiting such schools then what are we to make of his anecdotal claim that he’s “stood in classrooms where half the children come from homes where English isn’t spoken, where half the children are so poor they’re eligible for free school meals, where their family memories are of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or terror in Somalia, and heard those children discuss tyranny and legitimacy in Julius Caesar and Macbeth. And those children were only ten.”?

This statement is, of course, impossible to verify.

CORRECTION 17 September 2013.

The third paragraph has been changed.  It originally stated that 19.8% was the national average for SEN pupils in 2012.  This included pupils that were on School Action.  The Schools Performance Tables only give data for the proportion of pupils in a school who have a statement of Special Education Needs and who are on School Action Plus.  The correct average for SEN statemented pupils and those on School Action Plus in primary schools in 2012 was 7.9%.  The proportion of such pupils at Woodpecker Hall in 2012 was higher than 7.9% so my original statement that Woodpecker Hall did not have more than the national average was incorrect.  I had compared the figure with the inflated 19.8%.

A DfE spokeswoman told Warwick Mansell, writing in the Guardian, that Michael Gove had confused Woodpecker Hall, where no pupil took Sats in 2012, with Cuckoo Hall, a school Gove has visited many times.  It's unclear why he forgot its name.  Cuckoo Hall had 18.8% of pupil with SEN statements and on School Action Plus in 2012.  This is "more - many more" than the national average for primary schools.  36% of Cuckoo Hall pupils achieved Level 5 in 2012 - this is not "every child".

The spokeswoman said Gove was referring to Year 6 pupils and both Cuckoo Hall and Durand "have far more children than the national average registered as having SEN".  But this is not correct.  Only 8% of Year 6 pupils at Cuckoo Hall were SEN/School Action Plus (full set of school data CSV downloadable here). The national average was 7.9% - point one of a percent is not "far more".  At Durand, 4% of Year 6 pupils were SEN/School Action Plus (full set of school data CSV downloadable here).  It's rather stating the obvious to say that 4% is less than 7.9%.

It appears, then, that not only has Gove visited schools that don't appear to exist but he's forgotten the name of a school he's visited several times and hasn't quite got his finger on the statistics button.  Perhaps it's because of all those "Giant multipacks of crisps; fizzy drinks; luxury coleslaw; an insane amount of sugary cereal" which, according to his wife, he ordered during his summer break (see Sweetness at Home).

Paragraph 4 has also been changed - the reference to the SEN average for 2011 has been deleted.  Again, I had included pupils on School Action which inflated the average.


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