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Stats watchdog blasts Education Secretary Damian Hinds over 'serious' errors in school claims

Stats watchdog blasts Education Secretary Damian Hinds over 'serious' errors in school claims
4 min read

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has been rapped by the Government's own statistics watchdog over a string of claims about England's schools.

Sir David Norgrove, head of the UK Statistics Authority, said he had "serious concerns about the Department for Education's presentation and use of statistics".

He has written a strongly-worded letter to the Cabinet minister to demand that the DfE's figures are "properly presented" in future.

The watchdog sounded the alarm about a number of claims made by the DfE, including Schools Minister Nick Gibb's assertion that England had "leapfrogged" up an international survey of reading ability for nine-year-olds.

Mr Gibb claimed that England had gone from 19th out of 50 countries to 8th over the past year.

But that was flatly dismissed as "not correct" by the stats watchdog, who pointed out that the rise had in fact been from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016.

He also took aim at a recent tweet and blog from the DfE which he said had used figures "in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding" and give "a more favourable picture" of the Government's education spending record.

Sir David said: "I am sure you share my concerns that instances such as these do not help to promote trust and confidence in official data, and indeed risk undermining them."

The stats chief meanwhile pounced on concerns raised by Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner over the DfE's claim that there had been a "substantial increase" in the number of children attending high performing schools as judged by regulator Ofsted.

A claim that 1.9 million more kids are "studying in good or outsanding schools" under the Conservatives was made in Mr Hinds' speech to the Tory party conference last week, prompting the Labour frontbencher to demand an investigation.

In his letter, Sir David said that while the claim was "accurate as far as it goes," it had failed to "give a full picture" and should have been put in context with an overall rise in pupil numbers as well as changes to the way inspections are carried out.

He added: “The UK Statistics Authority has had cause to publicly write to the department with concerns on four occasions in the past year. I regret that the department does not yet appear to have resolved issues with its use of statistics.

"I seek your reassurance that the department remains committed to the principles and practices defined in the statutory code of practice for statistics."


Ms Rayner said the intervention by Sir David about the "misleading or blatantly false" use of statistics was a "humiliating rebuke for Tory ministers".

“They have used misleading figures on school funding to hide the fact that they have cut billions of pounds from school budgets, leaving head-teachers forced to beg for donations from parents to pay for books and stationery," she blasted.

“And their claims on school standards are now in tatters. Instead of relying on discredited statistics they should use the Budget to invest in schools and genuinely improve standards.”

A DfE spokesperson meanwhile said the department would respond to the letter "in due course".

But they added: "The most recent volume of the OECD’s Education at a Glance report said in 2015 among G7 nations, the UK government spent the highest percentage of GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education.

"This is one of several statistics in the OECD report that demonstrate the UK is among the highest spenders on education at primary and secondary level, whether you look at spend as a share of GDP, spend as a share of government spending or spend per pupil. Other independently verified statistics show the government is investing in schools – the IFS [Institute for Fiscal Studies] found that real terms per pupil funding in 2020 will be over 50 per cent higher than it was in 2000.

"It is true to say that the OECD has ranked the UK as the third highest for education funding – this includes tertiary and private education for every country."


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