How acceptable is it to change a speech after it’s been made? Isn't it rewriting history?

Janet Downs's picture
“In schools like Woodpecker Hall Primary in Edmonton or Durand Academy in Lambeth far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But every child – regardless of the challenges they face – achieves far above the national average in numeracy and literacy.”

Michael Gove, speech to Policy Exchange, original draft 5 September 2013, in which Gove claimed to have visited schools that didn't exist.

But the “original draft” was updated on 13 September - seven days after the Education Secretary gave his speech. The “original draft” now reads:

“In schools like Cuckoo Hall Primary or Durand Academy far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But the vast majority of children - regardless of the challenges they face - achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy.”

But is it acceptable to change the words of a speech after it has been made? A copy of a speech is a historical record and is expected to be accurate. It is not acceptable to alter speeches in, say, Hansard because a minister gave inaccurate information to the House of Commons.

In Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Seven Commandments painted on the wall were constantly changed. The pigs relied on the animals not having a clear memory of what was originally written. The Department for Education (DfE) seems to be using similar tactics. Thanks to Warwick Mansell, however, the original words were quoted in the Guardian.

It’s not the first time I’ve suspected the DfE has altered items after publication. I found two press releases about free schools had been “updated” in early 2013 – the dates were clearly given. I suspected these alterations were to erase any mention of Kings Science Academy which had once been praised in glowing terms but had been judged “requires improvement” by Ofsted* (and we now know Kings was being investigated by the Educational Funding Agency). I rechecked the press releases this morning and the update dates have been removed (see here and here). The “page history” gives no indication that the pages have been altered.

This raises the question about how many more press releases, speeches, announcements etc from the DfE have been similarly “updated”. Is it time for the DfE to update its name to the Ministry of Truth** (Minitrue in Newspeak)?


Note: the information about Durand Academy, Lambeth, is still wrong. It does not have far more children than the national average registered as having special educational needs. In 2012 Durand Academy had only 4% registered with statements or supported at School Action Plus. This is less than the national average of 11% and far below the Lambeth average of 17%. Perhaps there’ll be a further “update” to remove the reference to Durand Academy altogether.  See school performance table sorted in descending order of the proportion of SEN children in Lambeth schools.  Durand Academy is near the bottom on the second page.

*Citing Ofsted judgements does not imply agreement

**The Ministry of Truth, aka Minitrue, was the government department responsible for propaganda and rewriting history in George Orwell’s 1984.

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