Full Fact checks DfE claims after UKSA censure and Hinds's defence

Janet Downs's picture

Hinds's defence (or is it defiance?) is ill-founded

The education secretary Damian Hinds defended the ‘broad thrust’ of data claims made by the Department of Education after its severe reprimand by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), Full Fact reports. 

Full Fact followed this by its own analysis of DfE claims.  

Much of this will be familiar to readers of this site but it’s worth recapping.

  • The Government claims funding for schools will be at a record high by 2020.  But this doesn’t factor in inflation.  Neither does it cite spending per pupil.  FACT: education spending in England fell from 2009/10 to 2017/18 and will stay constant to 2019/20.
  • FACT:  The claim that UK is third-highest spender on education globally is meaningless because it doesn’t reflect public spending in England.
  • The Government cites IFS figures showing real terms per pupil funding in 2020 will be 50% higher than in 2000.  FACT: while the statistic is correct it doesn’t reflect the record of governments from 2010 . Most of the real terms increase occurred before 2010.

Damian Hinds’s defence of the DfE’s data use is ill-founded.   And the PM’s repetition of them in the Commons after the UKSA condemnation is reprehensible.

Dodgy data use undermines trust in politicians

Full Fact is correct in saying that government spin on statistics is misleading.  This in turn undermines trust in politicians and encourages cynicism about politicians’ announcements.

Media has role to play in debunking misleading claims but its track record on DfE data is poor

The media has a serious role to play in debunking politicians' claims.  But far too often, most of the media has churned government press releases and announcements without checking.  Would Michael Gove have got away with saying the UK had plummeted down league tables in the decade up to 2010 if journalists had bothered to check?  If they had done so, then they would have discovered the OECD, which produces data based on the three-yearly global PISA tests of 15-year-olds, had warned that data from 2000 for the UK should not be used for comparison with 2009 results because the UK data was flawed.   But Gove ignored this, the press picked up his damning critique and ran with it.

Gove based his entire reform programme on the plummeting down league tables myth.  How different might English education look today if Gove had been blasted for his misleading us of OECD data in 2010?

ESSENTIAL READING:  The first annual report from the IFS on education spending in England published in September is here.  It's short and to-the-point.  Main findings:

  • Spending on 3-4-year-olds since early 1990s UP from practically nil to £3b.  But funding for Sure Start centres introduced during this period has been slashed by  two-thirds since 2009/10
  • Total school spending per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18
  • Per student funding for those aged 16–18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education in recent years
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John Mountford's picture
Sat, 13/10/2018 - 10:59

Taking up your theme of how different Engliush education might have looked today if, Janet, lets start with the core problem. How different would it be if education had been banned years ago as a game of political football, refereed by politicans themselves? And the answer is, it would be totally different and undeniably beter placed to meet our needs in an uncertain future. A national commission for education, comprising representatives of all interested parties would have ensured a slower pace of tried and tested reforms to raise the quality of real education for all. It would have seen off the devisive structural reforms that have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds. It would have avoided the flood of expensive initiatives that have drained the life-blood of the teaching profession with 'we-can-fix-it solutions' sworn to raise standards, and almost as an aside, it would have helped preserve the belief that politics has to be about integrity and truth, if it is to serve our society properly.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 13/10/2018 - 11:33

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Janet for her tenacious persisence in following up important issues of public interest that the mainstream media ignore. However there is more.

The Government cites IFS figures showing real terms per pupil funding in 2020 will be 50% higher than in 2000. 

FACT: while the statistic is correct it doesn’t reflect the record of governments from 2010 . Most of the real terms increase occurred before 2010.

Neither does it reflect the fact that much of the post  2010 public spending has been unaccountably frittered away supporting Academies and Free Schools, some of which has involved fraud and dishonesty. The annual budget for the DfE in 2015-16 was £58.2 billion. Janet, can you get us a breakdown? It would also be very interesting to see how this rose following the 1988 Education Reform Act, the inefficiences inherent in Local Management of Schools, and how the OfSTED budget compares with the pre-OfSTED HMI.

Would Michael Gove have got away with saying the UK had plummeted down league tables in the decade up to 2010 if journalists had bothered to check? 

This is one of Janet's perennial favourites, but any of Goves claims of  international under-achievement pale into insignificance compared to the real collapse in UK standards since. This is is hidden from view by the flaws in  the OECD PISA methodology that do not take national IQs into account.

Consider an Academy School (eg Mossbourne) that has a SATs driven, fair banding, cognitive ability/IQ based admissions system with four bands A - D. Suppose the achool had a dedicated team of teachers for each band over the five years of 11-16 schooling.

The Academy Trust decides to rate the effectiveness of each of the four teaching teams by comparing the mean GCSE results of each band. This would obviously be nonsense, as the higher IQ bands would be expected to get better GCSE results even if the effectiveness of teaching was uniform across all four bands.

Yet the range of  mean national IQs is at least as great as the A-D band range at Mossbourne Academy.

This means that the unadjusted PISA scores inflate the effectiveness of countries with higher mean national IQs. Fortunately I have carried out a statistical adjustment on the latest PISA round that can be found here.


This analysis has been judged statistically sound by internationally respected academics.

The adjusted international postions are China (various parts) 39th-47th, Singapore 48th, UK 49th, US 53rd. The top performing countries are: Poland, Ireland and Vietnam.

This article is one of the most read on my website since it was published in December 2016 and no-one has questioned the methodology. This includes Andreas Scleicher of OECD.



Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 16/10/2018 - 11:06

Roger - in 2012, the NAO found the academies pogramme had cost one  billion pounds more than expected. 

That was six years ago.   It's important to differentiate between academy operating costs (which all schools expect to have) and the costs involved with setting them up, bailing them out with grants and rebrokering costs.  Every time a school converted, the DfE grants it £25k to pay for legal and admin costs.  LAs have the same legal and admin costs but no grants are available for them.  These local costs have to be borne by local taxpayers.  Some LAs have had enough and are charging schools when they convert.

Some academy trusts are bailed out with grants if their finances are dodgy  although this would only be a small proportion of the amount on conversion.  Far higher will be the grants available for MATs to take on new schools or, in the case of Bright Tribe and WCAT, receiving money to expand.

And then there are transfer costs.  These can range from £0 to millions.  Some costs are excluded from official data (only squeezed out of the DfE after a long legal battle).  These costs include capital costs and statutory redundancies.

All this money would have been better spent supporting struggling schools rather than persuading all schools to convert.  Schools were promised freedom but that, as we know, is illusory.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 16/10/2018 - 11:19

Quite right Janet, and thank you for your persistence in digging out these scandals that the mass media ignore.

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