Average is no longer ‘average’– how figures can be spun to increase parental discontent with state schools

Janet Downs's picture

‘The level of parental dissatisfaction with the education system has been laid bare in new figures that show more than a third of mothers and fathers are not happy with standards at local schools.’

Daily Telegraph, 14 September 2014

But the alleged ‘dissatisfaction’ revealed in a Populus poll commissioned by the New Schools Network, the taxpayer-funded charity which promotes the setting up of free schools, can only be maintained by lumping 'average' with 'poor' or 'very poor'.

'Average', of course, isn't as positive as 'good' and 'very good' but it's not ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ either. If average is interpreted as 'satisfactory' then the figures are very different:

1  91% of parents rated education in their area as satisfactory or better. 7% rated it as poor/very poor (2% didn't know).

2  92% rated the schools their children attended as satisfactory or better. 6% rated them as poor/very poor (2% didn't know).

3  71% of parents rated the choice of schools in their area as satisfactory or better. 13% rated the choice as poor/very poor (17% didn’t know).

The ‘don’t knows’ are important because in some cases they make up a large proportion of the total. For example, 32% of parents (nearly a third) didn’t know whether they would welcome a free school in the area.

The New School Network’s press release also combined ‘average’, ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ to inflate the level of dissatisfaction with state schools. Natalie Evans, director of NSN said:

‘…this survey confirms that there is also a considerable shortage of good school places full stop.’

But as shown above, only 13% of parents thought choice in their area was poor or very poor and 17% didn’t know.

She went on:

‘What’s more, with only 58% of parents rating their school as good or very good in terms of helping prepare their child for a job or a place at university, it is perhaps not surprising that a growing number of families – over 4 million of them - are interested in alternatives, such as free schools.’

Again, this statement ignores the proportion of parents who judged their school ‘average’ in helping children prepare for university or obtain a [good] job. The data was as follows:

18% judged the preparation to be very good; 40% good; 27% average; 6% poor; 3% very poor; 6% didn’t know.

It doesn’t follow, of course, that parents who judged the preparation to be average or worse were ‘interested in alternatives, such as free schools’. It could equally be concluded that these parents wanted their existing school to improve its preparation.

Evans made the classic statistical mistake of using a small sample to say free schools are ‘more than twice as likely to be judged outstanding by Ofsted, than other state schools’. But if she wants to use such ridiculously small samples to come to conclusions, then she should also note that the proportion of free schools judged Inadequate is larger than for other state schools.

I’ll return to dodgy data and free schools in my next thread.

NOTE: The above is an extended version of one of the comments I left under the Telegraph article. I posted as ex-Secondary Modern teacher.

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Robert Waring's picture
Fri, 19/09/2014 - 10:59

By refering to 'state' is telegraph including freeschools and academies, they are state funded aren't they? and the report seems to mention "local" schools, I assuming that freeschools and academies are local schools !

"...25 per cent – would have chosen a different school if they had the chance,..." did they not get the chance by applying to the school that their child is at?

"parental dissatisfaction with the education system .." , generally?

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