SkillForce agree to withdraw ad claim re FSM students after Advertising Watchdog steps in

Janet Downs's picture
“Free School Meals students who complete one education provider’s courses are eight times more likely to go onto Further Education, the charity SkillForce has announced. In its Social Impact Report 2013, SkillForce found that its former Forces personnel had helped 72% of FSM students go onto further education (against the national average of 9%).”

TES Advertisement, 12 July 2013

SkillForce is a charity which uses the expertise of ex-forces personnel to run schemes in school aimed at reducing truancy and increasing staying-on rates. But its claim in the advertisement is incorrect.

The advert says FSM pupils who take part in SkillForce programmes are “eight times more likely” to enter further education (FE) than other pupils. It says the national average is only 9%.

But this figure is wrong.

In 2011/12, the proportion of FSM pupils who went on to FE was 74.7% (DfE*). This is considerably more than 9%. And, rather than SkillForce students being “eight times more likely” to enter FE, they are slightly less likely to do so.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has investigated the advertisement (see "Informally resolved cases"). SkillForce has agreed to withdraw the claim from its advertising until they can provide evidence to support it. SkillForce is unlikely to be able to do this – it would be difficult to dispute DfE data.

But the ASA only has jurisdiction over advertisements. Today the claim was still on SkillForce’s website.

Unfortunately this isn’t the first time SkillForce has made such a claim. In 2010 it said, “Only 9% of those on Free School Meals go into Further Education (FE) whereas 60% of SkillForce graduates go onto FE.” But the proportion of FSM pupils entering FE in 2009/10 was 75.9% (DfE*).

The earlier claim was reported in the media: the Telegraph described it as “remarkable” in 2011 when it chose SkillForce for its Christmas Charity Appeal. It appeared on an MP’s website. And it was inflated to “ten times more likely” in a Centre for Policy Studies Report.

This is not to denigrate the work that SkillForce does. But its work with young people doesn’t mean it can publish false claims saying less than one-in-ten FSM state-educated pupils enter FE. Neither should it imply it does a better job than state schools in encouraging FSM pupils to stay in education post 16. This is not borne out by DfE figures. Many schools are using Pupil Premium money to buy in SkillForce programmes. While these may have a positive effect on attitudes it is wrong to say that SkillForce FSM students are far more likely to enter FE than other pupils.

While it's regrettable that SkillForce should publish misleading data, it's inexcusable for newspapers, an MP and a think-tank to republish the claim without bothering to check.   However, as SkillForce have withdrawn their claim from their adverts, perhaps it won't be too long before the claim disappears from its website.

*email to author from the Education Standards Evidence and Dissemination Division, Department for Education, 17 July 2013

Addendum: education sector advertisers censured by ASA since January 2013 to date include:

Formal rulings:

TeachFirst : the ASA “told TeachFirst to ensure their ads did not state or imply that participants in the programme already held QTS [Qualified Teacher Status]”. (May 2013).

The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust/Ixworth Free School: the ASA ruled the advertisement, which said that local parents had no choice of secondary school, could not appear again in its current form (January 2013)

The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust/Beccles Free School (BFS): the ASA ruled the advertisement contained misleading claims.  It “told BFS to ensure they did not make claims which exaggerated the extent of the headteacher's previous roles or the role and/or outcome of the Ofsted pre-registration inspection.” (January 2013)

Informal rulings (5 complaints re state schools or FE colleges - nature of complaint not given):

Ockendon Studio School, attached to converter academy (July 2013)

City College Peterborough, FE college (May 2013)

North West Academies (St Martin’s) Ltd , free school (April 2013)

Sandymoor School, free school (April 2013)

Wrotham School, Sevenoaks, converter academy (March 2013)

UPDATE 4 October 2013.  SkillForce has taken prompt action and removed the claim from its website (see comments below).

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