Education secretary continues to defend DfE use of stats after PM repeats dodgy data

Janet Downs's picture

PM’s dodgy statements were ‘factually correct’, Hinds says

‘Ensuring the integrity of education statistics is very important,’ said education secretary Damian Hinds in a letter to Angela Rayner about remarks made by the Prime Minister. 

‘Any statements should be presented in a way that is both factually accurate and placed in the right context,’ he continued.  Surely, then, he would apologise for the PM’s repetition of criticised figures?

But, no.

PM passed the accuracy test, said Hinds

Hinds said it remained ‘correct to say there are 1.9m more children in Good or Outstanding schools compared to 2010’.   The Government wanted this figure ‘to be as well understood as possible’ so inspection judgements were given ‘in terms of the number of children rather than a percentage figure.’

The education secretary obviously thinks the electorate can’t understand percentages.   But if numbers are used to make data more understandable, then this raises the question why the number hasn’t changed for months.   I mocked the repetition of this statement back in February.  

Figures not put in context

It should be expected, given UKSA’s scathing critique, that Hinds would have put the claim into its context. 

But, no.  

The methodology, he wrote, had been made ‘clear and publicly available here some time ago:’

The link didn’t work.  It came up ‘Page not found – 404’.   I cut-and-pasted it into the address bar.  Same result.

Hinds kept digging…

Hinds considered current pupil achievement is ‘in part the result of reforms we have made’ and a credit to hardworkingteachers.  He turns cheerleader,

‘…joins us in celebrating this improvement rather than questioning and talking down the success of our schools.’

But Rayner wasn’t criticising schools.  She was criticising the PM’s use of dodgy data.

then bludgeoned Rayner with statistics

Hinds followed this misrepresentation of Rayner’s position with a blizzard of statistics.  These included the one about 163,000 more 6-year-olds being on track to be fluent readers than in 2012. 

It’s true the proportion of 6-year-olds meeting the expected standard in phonics rose from 58% in 2012 to 81% in 2017 and 82% in 2018. 

But if decoding words was a definite sign of reading fluency, then the 81% meeting the phonics standard in 2017 should have met the expected standard for reading at the end of Key Stage 1 in 2018.  But the proportion meeting the expected reading standard was 75%.  It appears some of the thousands have fallen off the track.

10% reduction in attainment gap is ‘numerical sleight of hand’, NIofE found

Hinds repeated the claim that the attainment gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children has narrowed by 10% since 2011.  But Nottingham Institute of Education has found this claim is ‘just wily statistics – and a hefty dose of rounding up.’   

Hinds is right that educational statistics need to be correct to be trusted.  But UKSA’s blistering criticism and Hinds’s dogged defence shows that when it comes to presenting statistics, ministers and the DfE publicity department have a long way to go.

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John Mountford's picture
Sat, 20/10/2018 - 15:07

Janet, your view in reporting on this topic is skewed by your advanced sense of what should be forthcoing in the pronouncements of those that seek to occupy public office - your moral compass is not alligned with the current political leadership of our country. When you report the SoS as  ‘Ensuring the integrity of education statistics is very important,’  and that ‘Any statements should be presented in a way that is both factually accurate and placed in the right context,’ you are to be forgiven for assuming that "Surely, then, he would apologise for the PM’s repetition of criticised figures?"  No, No, No, Janet.

Go to the bottom of the class. Have your deep and meticulous incursions into the murky depths of this present government's crusade against truth taught you nothing?? None of them, from the top to the bottom, has any interest in honesty if it stands in the way of manipulating data to suit their own agenda. It used to be said, 'the truth will out'. Now we have to accept we live in an Orwellian world with all its dark manifestations.

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