16 March 2014

The DfE is deliberately using biased and misleading data


A recent conversation reminded me how angry this chart from the Department for Education (DfE) made me at the time and so I decided to revisit it. My complaint is two-fold; this is blatant political promotion from a supposedly neutral civil service and, more importantly, that the data is deliberately meaningless and is designed to mislead.

Free schools are an ideological approach from the Conservatives and the best that you can say about them is that the jury is still out. Some have succeeded, some have failed spectacularly and have been forced to close already, and overall the Ofsted results are, if anything, a little below the national average. I can see why the Conservatives want to spin Free schools as a success but there is no excuse for the DfE to do so.

But what really gets me is the numbers and the way that they are being used.

The infographic boasts of 174 new schools and of 150,000 new school places without giving the context to these numbers that is needed to understand them.

174 new schools is trumpeted as good news which suggests that this is making a difference to eduction in England. What it does not say is that there are approximately 25,000 schools in England so the 174 new Free schools is a meagre, and meaningless, 0.7%. Not only is 174 not good news, it is not even news.

Similarly the 150,000 new school places sounds good until you realise that there are over 8 million school children in England, so this is an increase of around 2%. This is a slightly more significant number but it tells you nothing about the demand for these places. If, for example, the demand for places has risen by more than 2% in the last three years (which is quite likely considering the population growth overall and the increasing number of children in recent years) then this small growth is actually a failure.

There has been much said recently about our children's poor performance in mathematics, and we have even shipped in teachers from China to try and help, but the aim to improve numeracy is not helped by the DfE using numbers in such an unintelligent and biased way.

What is even worse is that I am sure that they know what they are doing and that this use of biased and misleading data is deliberate. And that is shameful.

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