School minister’s debating strategy: constantly repeat dodgy data

Janet Downs's picture

Misleading Ofsted stats cited again…   

Nick Gibb: ‘In 2010, just 66% of pupils were attending schools judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding; today, that figure is 84% (sic).’

Technically correct (almost) but misleading.  

Mike Kane MP (Lab) reminded Gibb of criticism by the UK Statistics Authority.  Gibb brushed it off by saying he’d cited percentages not numbers.

Gibb doesn’t appear to realise that whichever way you present these statistics, numbers of percentages, it’s still the same criticised data.  Somewhat worrying, as he’s the minister for school standards.

…and again…

By Tory MPs Theresa Villiers and Neil O’Brien

…and again…

Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education, spouted the figures on Question Time.   

Muddle over systematic and synthetic phonics

There’s a body of evidence showing systematic phonics teaching is an effective method of teaching reading, said Gibb.  He’s right.  Puzzling, then, that he promotes just one method, synthetic phonics, and rewards publishers of synthetic phonics schemes with public money.

Misleading statement re GCSEs…

‘The Government have reformed GCSEs to put them on a par with the best in the world.’ This is rather difficult to do since few of the best in the world have such high stakes exams at 16.

…and free school success

 ‘…according to the Progress 8 measure, free schools are now our top-performing type of school’.   

43% of free schools entering pupils for GCSE have a negative P8 score.  The overall P8 average for free schools is inflated by a tiny number of outliers with impressive scores.   These, like other top-performers in P8 tend to have fewer FSM and SEND pupils and fewer pupils with low prior achievement.  

Gibb omitted UTCS and studio schools from the free school P8 average.   This would drag down the average P8 measure of free schools considerably.  

It is, in any case, unreliable to use free school test data to judge their overall performance.  The number entering tests is too small.

Academy autonomy claim repeated

The growth in academies since 2010 ‘show that autonomy and freedom in the hands of excellent heads and outstanding teachers can deliver high-quality education.’  

Academies are still in the minority despite all the hyperbole, cajoling and enforcement of the last eight years.   Heads and teachers, however excellent and outstanding they may be, have little autonomy in multi-academy trusts (MATs).  Even Ofsted has realised that some MATs prescribe curriculum and teaching methods.  Not much freedom there, just compliance.

MAT model ‘can be a powerful vehicle’ for school improvement

It’s true many schools improve when joining MATs.  But others improve while remaining under local authority stewardship.    Many a ‘powerful vehicle’ has crashed leaving pupils in limbo.

Labour party is ‘enemy of promise’

Gibb resorted to name-calling again

Sound and fury

This debate ended with a resolution ‘That the House has considered improving education standards.’  Considering something implies going through the motions.  Sound and fury, signifying nothing.



Copy of official edict from the defunct Inner London Education Authority ‘which banned punctuation, banned grammar, banned capital letters…’  Anne Milton, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills remembers a time when this was the case.

Link to Cambridge University publication which, according to Neil O’Brien MP, slated an unnamed school in London (rumoured to be Mossbourne) and was ‘full of cod-Marxist jargon’.

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