Zombie statistics resurrected by minister in Commons debate yesterday

Janet Downs's picture

Zombie statistics rose from the dead yesterday in Parliament when  Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, called on the government to review primary school assessment following ‘chaotic and confusing reforms’.

Nick Gibb responded as follows:

 ‘…we were determined to halt Britain’s decline in the PISA international league tables, which showed the UK falling from seventh in reading in 2000 to 25th by 2009, and from eighth in maths to 28th...’

As regular readers know, the UK Statistics Authority warned against the use of OECD PISA data for the UK from the year 2000 as long ago as 2012.  That should have ended the myth of ‘plummeting’ down league tables which formed the bedrock of Michael Gove’s reforms.

Unfortunately, it has not.  This is despite the Department for Education saying it would introduce quality assurance to ensure the flawed data would not be used unless accompanied by a warning about inherent bias in the figures.

DfE’s quality assurance failed again yesterday just as it failed last November when Education Secretary Nicky Morgan used the faulty figures.  The offending passage was removed from the DfE transcript (history rewritten, it would appear) but an unedited version is here.

Nick Gibb wasn’t finished – he added this:

‘…and we fell further still in the 2012 PISA survey.’

This is only partly true.   Although the UK’s relative position in Science fell three places, the score remained the same.  The UK still performed above the OECD science average.  Its relative position in Reading and Maths did not fall but rose slightly.

There were other dubious data in Gibb’s response:

  • ‘120,000 more six-year-olds today are reading more effectively than they otherwise would, because of this Government’s reforms and the focus on phonics.’  But DfE commissioned research in found teachers were combining phonics with other methods.
  • ‘As a result of this Government’s education reform, 66% of secondary schools and 19% of primary schools now have academy status, with the professional autonomy that this brings.’  But academies in multi-academy trusts do not have full autonomy – how much freedom they have is in the gift of MAT trustees.
  • ‘A total of 1.45 million more pupils are in schools rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted than in 2010.’  But this is partly to do with the way Ofsted inspects schools – concentrating on schools which require improvement or are inadequate.  In any case, the improvement in Ofsted ratings is in the primary sector where 81% of schools are not academies.  Improvement in the heavily-academised secondary sector has stalled. 

Gibb ended by accusing Rayner of ‘simply kowtowing to the NUT “line to take”’.   But it’s not just the NUT who have reservations about SATs.  The NAHT said the SAT data wasn’t fit for publication.  The ATL described the SAT results as a ‘shambles’.  The NASUWT called for a review.  ASCL said the introduction of the tests was ‘rushed and chaotic’.

Gibb and the 277 other Tories present prefered to close their ears to this deafening roar and hide behind dodgy data.    But the parents of the 47% of 11 year-olds now labelled as failures might not be as prepared to let the 2016 KS2 Sat debacle go unchallenged.





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