More ministerial nonsense during Education Questions

Janet Downs's picture
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).
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 04/03/2015 - 14:14

At the Shard Mathematics Resilience Conference it was made clear that in relation to maths, the Shanghai and other Chinese educationalists are far from happy with their own system. They wish to learn from the 'best practice' in the UK, but this definitely NOT what Morgan and Gibb THINK is best practice.

Nor is it what is going on in the majority of English classrooms as was again made clear at the Shard Conference. Actually it is worse than that. The corrupting pressures of marketisation and the sort of drivel spouted by Morgan and Gibb are pushing practice in the WRONG direction in our schools and especially in Academies and Free Schools (a recurring theme in 'Learning Matters').

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 04/03/2015 - 15:17

I'm in need of clarification. When does a misrepresentation of "facts" amount to a LIE? All contributions carefully considered. More on this to follow.

Brian's picture
Wed, 04/03/2015 - 17:41

I seem to remember reading somewhere that very young children are able to recognise that lying has been wrong only if the lie is exposed. As the only real option for exposing lies in parliament is the opposition education spokesman, who seems to have gone on extended leave, there is no reason why ministers and others should desist from misrepresenting the truth. If a lie wasn't exposed it wasn't wrong. Simple .. even a five year old can manage it.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 05/03/2015 - 10:18

Morgan also said good maths teachers used the 'mastery' approach. The EEF toolkit concludes Maths Mastery, a programme sponsored by academy chain ARK, has 'Moderate impact for low cost, based on moderate evidence.'

The EEF found mastery learning seemed particularly effective when pupils work in groups and the whole class working together on maths problems was more effective than children working at their own pace. It suggested mastery learning might be 'more effective when used as an occasional or additional teaching strategy as the impact decreases for longer programmes of over 12 weeks or so'.

But it appears Morgan wants schools to adopt the strategy all the time. And the finding about the effectiveness of group work is not likely to please Nick Gibb who includes group work in his definition of 'trendy teaching' which, according to the Mail, he has told schools to ditch (so much for autonomy).

Gifted Phoenix has analysed the full EEF report in depth here.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 05/03/2015 - 11:21

Morgan also said '15-year-olds in Shanghai are three years ahead of 15-year-olds in this country in the programme for international student assessment tables.'

What the OECD actually said was:

'Shanghai-China, and Singapore were top in maths, with students in Shanghai scoring the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above most OECD countries.'

The OECD has had to admit since this statement was made that 25% of the cohort was missing from Shanghai's PISA tests in 2012. This makes any claim about their superiority unreliable. According the Shanghai's now discredited figures, Shanghai 15- year-olds scored 613 in PISA maths. Singapore 15-year-olds scored 573 - 40 points below. The UK maths score was 494 (the OECD average).

It appears, then, the OECD calculates a score of 40 = one year of schooling. If this is true, the UK 15-year-olds would be two years behind Singapore.

It should be remembered that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students didn't take PISA at the same time as the rest of the world because it clashed with GCSEs. The English/Welsh/NI students who took PISA in Autumn 2012 were in Year 10, aged 14-15, when the rest of the world (aged 15-16) took the tests. This meant they had received less time in schools - any comments about how 'behind' are students are should take this into account.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 06/03/2015 - 22:56

It may be that what makes a lie is an insistence to repeat a ‘fact’ that has been deemed incorrect. Clearly, this is not a matter of innocent misrepresentation, which suggests the perpetrator of the falsehood may be on shaky ground in declaring the ‘fact’ but repeats it anyway.

So to Mrs Morgan. The correspondence between her and Sir Andrew Dilnot is interesting. In his letter, seven pages long, two offer his judgement on her factual ‘mutterings’ and five pages quote from the relevant National Curriculum documents. Her letter in reply, runs to a page and five lines. I mention this merely to indicate that he went to considerable lengths to identify why he reached the judgement he did while she, from my reading, rather briefly put him straight as to why he was wrong and she right.



Is this a case of a minister refusing to accept the judgement of an independent authority?

The “UK Statistics Authority (is) an independent body at arm’s length from government with direct reporting to Parliament and the devolved legislatures, rather than through Ministers, and with the statutory objective of promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that “serve the public good”.

Is it henceforth to be the prerogative of the Secretary of State for Education to determine what will be designated as a national statistic?

In the Code of Practice “Only those statistics that are assessed as compliant with the Authority's Code of Practice will be designated as National Statistics.”

Where is the official opposition? What of an independent media? What are the unions doing about blatant attacks on the reputation of the professionals they represent? Who is to ensure that ordinary people get to the truth?

All replies to -

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/03/2015 - 08:51

John - unfortunately, detailed, measured and evidence-based demolition of government lies counts for nothing when the media is presented with a compelling soundbite about the awfulness of state education in England (unless it's exaggerating academy and free school success, of course).

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