The Department for Education has accepted a questionnaire response from Ebenezer Scrooge. The survey completed in his name canvasses parents and others to give views on Government proposals for new grammar schools. It has just eight short questions and anyone filling in the survey doesn’t have to provide an email address.
Which is how I managed to submit a response under the name Ebenezer Scrooge.
I answered none of the questions – I didn’t want to be accused of manipulating the result. I just typed in Scrooge’s name, his local authority (I assumed it was Westminster) and his status. I answered ‘Other’ and wrote ‘Employer’ in the box asking for further details.
I pressed Submit and my response was accepted. I was given a reference number beginning ‘Anon’.
Responses to the short survey will be included in the consultation results, the DfE made clear.
How easy would it be, I thought, to use the same computer and submit a second response? This time I used the name Jacob Marley. Again he resided in Westminster. And again I said his status was ‘Other’. When asked for further details I typed, ‘Employer (deceased)’. I answered none of the questions and pressed Submit. Jacob’s response was also accepted. He, too, has a reference number beginning ‘Anon’.
Any consultation which makes it so easy to submit multiple responses which are not genuine is suspect. The short consultation has already been linked to misinformation contained in a DfE tweet (now removed after the UK Statistics Watchdog intervened). The questions, which, I repeat, I didn’t answer, assumes anyone completing the survey agrees with the Government’s plans. The survey isn’t really canvassing parental opinion because it assumes the proposals are uncontested. It links ‘new good schools’ with grammar schools, for example. And who wouldn’t want new, good schools?
The survey is biased, has been linked to misinformation and makes it too easy to submit multiple, fictitious responses. A cynic may wonder if the short survey has been published to elicit as many positive ticks as possible to counteract the numerous negative reactions from, among others, headteachers, Tory MPs, the Lords and the newly appointed director of the pro-free school charity, the New Schools Network, Toby Young.
This survey cannot be regarded as a genuine consultation. It is a sham.
Further reading: see ‘Post-truth politics and the grammar school debate’ by Laura Mcinerney, editor, Schools Week.