It sometimes appears Education Questions is a waste of time. A Tory MP asks the Secretary of State Nicky Morgan to praise such-and-such academy on its results or to congratulate a school for becoming an academy.
And so it was on Monday
. Damian Green (Con) claimed sponsorship was improving Kennington CofE Primary Academy. He’d seen it with his own eyes.
While it’s true Kennington CofE was Inadequate in 2013, subsequent monitoring found it was improving after ‘well received’ support from Kent. And it didn’t become an academy until 1 November 2014.
After this puff for academy status, Green asked if the SoS agreed ‘academy status increasingly benefits not just secondary schools but primary schools?’
Unsurprisingly, Morgan agreed. Results at first wave sponsored primary academies had risen by ‘9 percentage points, double the rate of improvement in local authority-maintained schools’, she said.
But as Warwick Mansell points out
, this isn’t comparing like with like – sponsored academies start from a lower base than all LA schools. Mansell compared sponsored primary academies with LA primaries starting from the same low base and came to the ‘opposite conclusion’. Sponsored primary academy results rose slower than results in the comparison group.
Morgan is at her most shaky when she spouts statistics. She attempted to defuse a question from John Mann (Lab) about the number of academies with declining exam results by claiming ‘There has been a 71% increase in the number of pupils taking the key academic subjects’.
Assuming Morgan means EBacc subjects, Department for Education figures
contradict her. The percentage of pupils entering Maths rose slightly from around 98% in 2009/10 to around 99% in 2013/14. The proportion taking English fell from around 98% to around 97% in the same time frame. Entries for Sciences rose from around 62% to 69%, humanities from around 49% to 65%, and languages from 40% to 50% during the same period.
None of these increases equals a 71% rise.
Morgan praised Shanghai maths instruction. ‘We look very carefully at international evidence,’ she said. That’s why 30 Shanghai teachers are here to tell English teachers ‘how to improve their maths teaching’.
But 25% of the cohort were missing from Shanghai’s 2012 PISA* tests, the OECD admitted
. It’s not reliable to say Shanghai’s 15-year-olds are ‘three years ahead’ of UK pupils when Shanghai’s missing pupils could have been those which would have brought down Shanghai’s results.
And the ‘best in the world’ (allegedly) in PISA maths tests fails when linking maths to everyday life, according to Kan Wei
, Associate Professor at Beijing Normal University. He says:
‘Many Chinese teachers who face the pressure of an examination-oriented education system do not see a reason to do activities that connect maths to real-life. It’s easier to just give students the information required and teach them the process.’
In other words, teach to the test.
Professor Wei said Chinese teachers spend a considerable amount of time planning and marking during the school day. But non-classroom time doesn’t appear on Morgan’s list of what comprises good maths teaching: facing the front, learning tables, concentrating for 35 minutes and using textbooks.
The daftest statement came from School Reform Minister Nick Gibb. He claimed ‘As a result of our policy on reading and the introduction of the phonics check in 2012, 102,000 six-year-olds are today reading more effectively than they would otherwise have done had Labour stayed in office.’
Gibb hasn’t realised the increased number of primary pupils since 2009/10 would lead to an increased number learning to read. Neither does he understand that passing the phonics test doesn’t mean reading ‘effectively’. Decoding doesn’t imply comprehension. Nor has he twigged that teachers of reading are combining phonics with other methods
. And we don’t know – we never will because it’s hypothetical – what would have happened to children’s reading prowess if Labour had not left power.
Education Questions, then, appears to be a platform for ministers to spout unreliable data and fatuous soundbites.
*Programme for International Student Assessment – test taken every three years and administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).