Somebody tell Lord Nash the PISA 2000 results are dodgy. With a bit of luck, he might stop using them.

Janet Downs's picture
“However, between 2000 and 2009 on the OECD tables we fell from eighth to 28th in maths, fourth to 16th in science, and seventh to 27th in literacy...”

Lord Nash, House of Lords, 13 March 2014

It’s astonishing a schools minister is still quoting the same dodgy statistics which the UK Statistics Authority said should not be used unless accompanied with a caveat that the OECD PISA 2000 figures were faulty and the OECD had warned against using them for comparison.

That warning was, of course, well-known back in December 2010 when the Department for Education (DfE) published the press release which attracted special criticism from the UK Stats watchdog.

Two years of campaigning by this site and organisations such as FullFact eventually resulted in the UK Statistics Authority concluding ‘it may be difficult to treat an apparent decline in secondary school pupils’ performance as “a statistically robust result”’

But Lord Nash obviously thinks it’s OK to continue using flawed statistics.

Lord Nash also seems unaware there’s been another round of PISA tests since 2009. This could be because the 2012 results showed a slight improvement in the relative standing of the UK in reading and maths although not in science. UK pupils, however, were still above the OECD average in science even though the relative position (but not the score) fell.

I’ve written before about how PISA 2000 results are zombie stats - data which are pronounced dead but keep bouncing back to life. I started a Roll of Dishonour with the names of politicians and media types who kept quoting PISA 2000. I’d put Lord Nash’s name on it but it’s already there.

So, can someone tell Lord Nash he looks as if he’s not bothered whether the statistics he uses are reliable or not. And if he doesn’t seem to care whether data is reliable then how can we trust him to make decisions about who is trustworthy enough to become an approved academy sponsor or whether free schools should open or not?

Lord Nash has just turned down an application for a free school in Camden which seemed to tick all the boxes: it was parent-led, supported by the local authority and backed by an organisation experienced in education. And it appeared to address a need for extra secondary school places.

But Lord Nash rejected it. This seems odd when other free schools have been allowed to go ahead even when there are already surplus places (81% of all secondary free schools, says the National Audit Office) or when proposers shouldn’t be allowed to run a school bingo session let alone a school.

When a minister cites dodgy data, especially when it’s known to be flawed and it’s out-of-date, how can taxpayers trust that minister to make decisions about how to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wisely?


The short answer is: we can’t.

NOTE: For details about Lord Nash’s decision to reject the application for a free school proposed by parents and backed by the Institute of Education, see here.
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Brian's picture
Fri, 14/03/2014 - 14:29

'So, can someone tell Lord Nash he looks as if he’s not bothered whether the statistics he uses are reliable or not.'

Given what is publicly known about the PISA statistics one has to conclude that he's not bothered, which isn't quite the same as looking as if he's not bothered.

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