The gap between disadvantaged pupils and others continues to narrow,’ says the Department for Education in its commentary on the 2018 Key Stage 2 assessment tests.
The graph on page 1 shows a narrowing of the disadvantage gap from 3.34 in 2011 to 2.90 in 2018 – a difference of 0.44. It might be thought this was rather a slender reduction.
But you’d be wrong. According to DfE number crunchers, the gap has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011.
I haven’t a clue how the DfE turns 0.44% into 13.2%, but Chris Rolph, writing on the Nottingham Institute of Education blog, attempted to explain similar claims made about large year’s gap reduction figures. This ‘numerical sleight of hand’ comprised ‘wily statistics – and a hefty dose of rounding up.’
The DfE also said the gap had decreased by 3% in the last year. The graph on the first page shows a gap of 2.99 in 2017 and 2.90 today. I calculate that as 0.09. Does 0.09=3? I think the answer is No.
The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), known as the ‘disadvantaged’, who reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths tests in 2018 is 46% - that’s 11 percentage points higher than in 2016. The proportion of all other pupils reaching the expected standard in the same period has also risen by 11 percentage points: from 57% to 68%.
Both proportions have risen. But the gap remains stable. It was 22 percentage points in 2016. And it’s 22 percentage points in 2018. Or 21 percentage points in both years if unrounded figures are used.
Worse, the gap between FSM pupils and their advantaged peers reaching the higher standard in reading, writing and maths SATs has widened since 2016. It was five percentage points difference in 2016 and is now seven percentage points.
Narrowing the disadvantage gap is constantly cited by the government as a goal which is being achieved because of recent reforms. But it appears the numbers don’t support that conclusion.
In any case, there are valid reasons why focussing on the ‘gap’, especially when measured by test results, diverts attention from ‘constructing classrooms that give the greatest chance of success to those most likely to fall behind.’ And those most likely to fall behind are not just those identified by the crude measure of FSM eligibility.
Nevertheless, we can expect Tory politicians from the prime minister downwards to constantly repeat that the ‘gap’ has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011. No prizes for guessing which minister is likely to spout this data first.
UPDATE 16.57 Surprise, surprise! Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb has used the 13.2% figure (although he changed it to 13% and said it was from 2010).
UPDATE 17 December 2018. The comments in the previous update about Gibb making 'crass' comments has been removed as I have dealt with this in more detail here.