DfE press release uses misleading stats and overstates role of sponsors in raising KS2 results

Janet Downs's picture
Henry’s thread on treating Department for Education (DfE) press releases with caution is timely.

A January 2014 DfE press release includes one way in which the DfE manipulates data - comparing the improvement rate of previously under-performing sponsored academies with all schools. This is misleading as Henry explained.

Another oft-used ploy is to name a few academies in an attempt to show academy sponsorship raises results. But things are not quite as the DfE claimed (claims in italics).

Ryecroft Primary Academy in Bradford (sponsored by Northern Education Trust since September 2012) - 74% of pupils achieved the expected level in the 3 Rs in 2013, up 48 percentage points.

Data correct but NET only took over in the September before Year 6 pupils would have taken Sats. Any improvement would have built on foundations laid by the previous community school. Ofsted judged the predecessor school Good in July 2010. The school’s capacity for sustained improvement was Outstanding.

It is disingenuous, then, to attribute the school’s success solely to the sponsor.

Shortly after the school became an academy, Ralph Berry, Bradford’s executive member for children’s services, said he believed the DfE put the school “under pressure” to convert after failing to hit targets for a number of years.

NET chief executive Roger Alston said: “The DfE spoke to Ryecroft before they spoke to us and said ‘we think you might benefit from academy status with a good trust’ and they went along with that.

Harris Primary Academy Coleraine Park in Haringey, London (sponsored by the Harris Federation since September 2012) - 70% of pupils achieved the expected level in the 3 Rs in 2013, up 23 percentage points from 2012.

Data correct but Harris only took over Coleraine Park last September. An Ofsted monitoring visit in March 2013 said Harris provided “strong support” but noted staff changes presented “additional challenges”.

Coleraine Park Primary School was judged Inadequate in December 2011. A monitoring visit in May 2012 found the local authority (LA) provided “satisfactory support” which was having “a positive impact on the school’s capacity to sustain improvements”.

But according to the DfE, the school’s rising results are solely due to Harris.

Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane in Haringey, London (sponsored by the Harris Federation since September 2012) - 75% of 6-year-olds this year passed the phonics check, up from 36% in 2012, while in results for 11-year-olds, 78% achieved the expected level in reading (up from 67%) and 81% managed that in maths (up from 69%)

Phonics data can’t be verified – it’s not publicly available. Data is correct for reading and maths tests results. Overall, 69% of Philip Lane pupils reached Level 4 in reading, writing and maths up from 61% in 2012. Ofsted found the LA continued to support the predecessor school, Downhills, up to July 2012 shortly before it became an academy.

But the DfE only praises support from the sponsor.

Results in many non-academies in Haringey also improved, sometimes dramatically eg Crowland Primary School (75% to 91%), Seven Sisters (38% to 64%) and St Ignatius RC (78% to 91%). Two of these are community schools and one is Voluntary Aided.

The DfE listed three sponsored academies where 27% or more pupils reached Level 5. The results were matched and overtaken by many other schools in the same LA. These schools were not similarly praised.

CONCLUSION: It’s not necessary to become an academy to raise results. In any case, a rise in the results may not necessarily coincide with improved education. That said, the Level 4 figure is the measure the Government uses to judge primary schools so it's important to highlight any misrepresentation of the data by the DfE.

Note: the Level 4 measure is based on results for Reading, Writing and Maths. This is a change from 2012. All comparisons with 2012 are based on the 2012 results for Reading, Writing and Maths NOT the 2012 results for English and Maths. Confused? So was I (see here).

CLARIFICATION 7 March 2014. The original article said Northern Education Trust only took over Ryecroft Primary School "last September". I should have made it clear that NET took over the school in September 2012 which is less than a year before Year 6 pupils took SATs. I have corrected the thread but the point still stands - any rise in results would have built on foundations laid when the school was a community school.
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Brian's picture
Tue, 21/01/2014 - 19:29

Statements based on misuse of data, or no data at all, have become commonplace. Apologies for this being seriously off topic for LSN but ...

Just before Christmas the Department for Communities and Local Government issued a statement saying that, through parking fines Local Authorities were 'fleecing innocent drivers.'

So I sent an FoI asking for the data which supported this statement, pointing out that 'innocent' drivers were those who were not parking against regulations. I've just had the reply. The Department has no data in respect of the statement they issued.

I know it's not education, I know it's trivial, but it's another example of a similar attitude to veracity. And, of course, it's those big, bad Local Authorities again.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 22/01/2014 - 07:53

Thanks, Brian. The problem of misinformation is widespread. The trouble is it's repeated so often it becomes accepted as "truth". FullFact does a good job uncovering inaccurate information and condemns the use of "zombie" statistics (ie those that have been proved wrong but keep popping up).


My bugbear zombie statistic is, as you're probably aware, using the flawed 2000 PISA results for comparison when the OECD warned against doing so over three years ago. A recent example of the stat coming back to life was in the DT before Christmas:


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