DfE ratchets up positive spin – sign of desperation or ministers preparing leadership bids?

Janet Downs's picture

We’ve been here before.  The Department for Education (DfE) publishes a press release with positive noises from ministers.  But these often contain misleading information.

Take claims about the increasing number of good or better schools.  After criticism from the UK Statistics Watchdog, the DfE started quoting percentages.  Education secretary Damian Hinds tweeted this at the end of April.

Our schools have made great progress: 85% of schools are good and outstanding schools, vs 68% in 2010’

Fact-checking website Full Fact was blunt:  ‘the government should not be using this statistic.’

DfE spinning continues

It’s not just dodgy Ofsted data.   Take yesterday’s missive from the DfE’s media department.  This spun on three fronts.

Special education needs

At the NAHT conference, NAHT general secretary, Paul Whiteman, described special needs funding as ‘bleak’.  Not only were school budgets ‘at breaking point,’ he said, ‘there have been severe cuts to local authority health and social care provision’.

The DfE responded:

Over a quarter of a million pupils with complex needs have benefitted from tailored Education, Health and Care Plans since 2014…The high needs budget has also gone up to £6 billion this year, from £5 billion in 2013.’

Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC) replaced statements of special education needs in 2014.  We need to know if the number of statements in 2013 to assess if the situation’s improved.

In 2013, 229,390 pupils in English schools had statements, 2.8% of the total pupil population, DfE statistics for 2013 show.

In 2018, the number with a pre-2014 statement or EHC plan rose slightly to 253,680 pupils, 2.9% of the population, DfE statistics for 2018 reveal.  A slight rise of 0.1%, then. 

Education secretary Damian Hinds told the NAHT conference:

We introduced Education, Health and Care Plans…thousands of children with the most complex needs are now receiving more tailored support to help their learning.’

This suggests the Tories introduced EHC plans (it was actually the Coalition) and support wasn’t previously available.  But they were not a new initiative but a replacement.

School workforce

The NAHT claimed 37% of school leaders were struggling to recruit staff.  The DfE said there were 11,900 more teachers than in 2011.  But the number of school pupils has also risen. The DfE said it was encouraging recruitment and had announced a 3.5% rise in classroom teachers’ pay.


The NAHT conference planned to vote on a motion to oppose the way academisation works in relation to Ofsted inspections.

The DfE responded with the misleading mantra about ‘autonomy and freedom’ being linked to an excellent education.  But the much-hyped freedom is an illusion: academies in multi-academy trusts only have as much autonomy as trustees will allow them.  And not all academies provide ‘excellent education’. 

No doubt we’ll hear more misleading spin especially if there’s a general election.  Or if ministers are preparing leadership bids.   Schools minister Nick Gibb spoke on subjects outside his education brief recently.  Surely not?



AMENDMENT: 22 May 2019  Headline was changed from 'DfE ranks up positive spin...'

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Celia Blair's picture
Sat, 04/05/2019 - 14:04

Schools that need inspecting because they became academies are often neglected for 6+ years whereas LEA schools are criticised much more frequently. Some that were just "good" before transfer and some new schools are escaping inspection too.
The school that lost the poor girl who was bullied because she picked up litter should be checked immediately but I don't suppose it will be. It has a policy document.

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 05/05/2019 - 08:36

You are right, Celia. As the report on the BBC website confirmed, the headteacher is confident the school's policy was as impressive as the words it was expressed in. BUT the FACT that the pupil chose to move to another school suggests a different tale. As a retired headteacher myself, I would not be comfortable with the way my school performed if it resulted in such an outcome. My advice would be to make sure the policy in place is just a small part of its response to potential bullying in future. Actions speak louder than words.

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