UK Statistics Authority calls on Morgan to retract her false claims

Henry Stewart's picture
Andrew Dilmot, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has again criticised Nicky Morgan for false claims about childrens' achievement at the end of primary school. The BBC reports that he makes clear that Nicky Morgan has misled Parliament and calls on her to correct the record of her speech in Hansard.

On 10th December the Secretary of State stated in Parliament that "under the previous Labour Government one in three of our young people were leaving primary school unable to read and write. That is a shocking statistic." (Hansard, col 894) As Janet Downs pointed out in response, the really shocking thing is the mis-use of statistics by Morgan, especially as Dilmot had already criticised Morgan for a similar misleading statement at the Conservative conference in September..

The "one third" statistic refers to the proportion of children in 2010 that did not achieve Level 4 in all three KS2 subjects: Maths, Reading and Writing. However it is not Level 4, but the lower Level 3, that is the most appropriate measure for whether a child can read or write.

Dilmot points out that children who achieve Level 3 in Reading are able "to read a range of texts fluently" and those who achieve Level 3 in Writing are able to write in a way that is "often organised, imaginative and clear". So being "unable to read and write" means achieving below Level 3, not below Level 4.

In May 2010, in the KS2 tests, 91% achieved Level 3 in Reading and 93% achieved Level 3 in Maths. The number that could neither read nor write is therefore less than 7%, one in fourteen rather than one in three. Nicky Morgan was wrong by a factor of more than four. And, as her previous statement had already been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority, she made that claim in Parliament knowing it to be misleading.

People are less interested in Morgan getting it wrong

One aspect of this is that, in contrast to Gove, very few people seem interested when Morgan gets her facts wrong or, as in this case, deliberately seeks to mislead. When we wrote about Gove making claims that weren't true, it nearly always generated widespread interest. Most of these posts received thousands of views and one by Janet Downs, on Gove claiming to have visited schools that didn't exist, was read by over 120,000 people. In contrast Janet's piece on Morgan misleading Parliament has received just 275 visits.

It seems that Cameron's strategy, of replacing the "toxic" Gove with the apparently more friendly Morgan is working. Her (much needed) focus on workload is a clear response to the need to win over teachers and, still in her honeymoon period, there is little interest when she seeks to deceive.

Is Tristram Hunt asleep on the job?

Tristram Hunt.had surely read Morgan's conference speech and must have been aware of her inaccurate claims. I made very similar points to those from Andrew Dilmot in my response on 30th September, and tweeted it to Hunt to make sure he was aware of it. He must, if he was doing his job, also have been aware of Dilmot's criticism of the Secretary of State. Yet, facing Morgan as she distorted the truth in Parliament, Hunt made no attempt to correct her or to hold her to account.

Surely the shadow Education Secretary has here failed to do his job. The Morgan claim was an insult to children, an insult to primary schools, an attack on the previous Labour government and blatantly false. If, even with advance warning, Tristram Hunt is unable to challenge Nicky Morgan when she stands up and misleads Parliament, then is he in the correct role?


Data note: Statistics on KS2 pass rates are available from the DfE. (National Tables, Table 1 & Table 2)
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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 22/12/2014 - 10:07

I despair at the lack of response by Labour to the blatant misuse of statistics and evidence shown by Gove, Gibb, Nash, Truss and now Morgan.

Time and again we've shown on LSN how these politicians and their media supporters have publicised misleading data or distorted evidence yet it appears Labour ignores this. For example, Labour should have pounced immediately on Gove when he brushed aside the OECD warning not to use the 2000 PISA figures for the UK for comparison. But it was nearly two years before David Miliband wrote to the UK Stats Watchdog who censured the DfE use. But by then it was too late - the plummeting down league table myth is now accepted 'truth'.

Brian's picture
Mon, 22/12/2014 - 19:42

I have written to Tristram Hunt several times asking why he was not capitalising on the numerous education open goals bring presented to him by the coalition. No response.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 22/12/2014 - 19:45

"Is Tristram Hunt asleep on the job?", why of course not. His inactivity reinforces the fact that there is effectively no substantive difference between Labour's education policy and that of the Conservative's. I also suspect that he know that if Labour get in then life all politicians it will be full spin ahead; navigating as now from one sound bite to another.

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