DfE struggles to defuse disingenuous use of data

Janet Downs's picture

Forget global – DfE compares UK with G7 for more flattering comparison

The Department for Education (DfE) is attempting to defuse accusations that its education funding claims were deceitful.

A DfE spokesperson told the Independent: 

 ‘…in 2015 among G7 nations, the UK government spent the highest percentage of GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education.

The sample of G7 countries is far smaller than the 40 countries included in OECD data*.  It’s easier to come top in such a small group. And the UK does come top of these seven countries for public spending on primary and secondary education as a percentage of GDP.

But figures apply to the UK not just England

The data applies to the whole of the UK not just England.  Applying UK data to England is unreliable.  And it relates to 2015 not, as implied, to today.

The DfE’s own data shows a slowdown in funding after 2010.    The greatest increase in state funding of education in England came before 2010.   And HM Treasury figures show education spending per head in England was the same in 2016/17 and in 2012/13**.  

DfE continues to compare funding with 2000

…the IFS found that real terms per pupil funding in 2020 will be over 50 per cent higher than it was in 2000,’ said the spokesperson. 

But, as noted above, state spending on education stalled in England after 2010/11.  The Government appears to be taking credit for the greater increase in spending under Labour.

DfE now admits its previous claim including tertiary and private spending

It is true to say that the OECD has ranked the UK as the third highest for education funding – this includes tertiary and private education for every country,'  the spokesperson said.

UK's position falls to 12th globally for public spending on primary and secondary education.  That’s not bad.  But it’s nine places below the boasted 3rd place.  And it’s behind public spending in such countries as Argentina, Brazil and South Africa***.

It appears the DfE is taking measures to soften any possible censure by the UK Statistics Authority after its investigation into the DfE’s use of OECD figures.  But this has come too late.  The DfE is in the dock.  No amount of ‘Not Guilty M’Lud’ will hide its misleading use of OECD figures.


*OECD data which allows sorting by All countries, OECD, EU, G20 etc can be downloaded here.  

**Treat this conclusion with caution.  See footnote here.  

***Note my disingenuous use of the data - deliberately done to highlight how statistics can mislead.   I chose countries with severe financial problems.  If countries struggling with finances can invest a larger amount of their GDP than the UK, then this puts UK spending in a poor light despite the UK being just outside the top quarter.   

This ploy is often used by both politicians and the media when discussing international rankings (see here for example).  

The eleven countries which spent more public money on primary and secondary education as a percentage of GDP, from highest spender to 11th, are:  South Africa, Costa Rica, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Belgium, Brazil, Israel, Finland, Argentina, New Zealand.

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John Mountford's picture
Sat, 06/10/2018 - 19:31

I stick with my statement about the very real threat to our democracy.  When a government department publishes duff data in the first place, we should feel concerned. In fact we should be demanding the responsible persons be sacked as they clearly do not have the moral fibre to resign, ministers included. However, when that same department  issues a correction through some anonymous, nubskull of a 'spokesperson' and again knowingly misleads the public, it must be time to call a general election to remove those who consistently abuse power and betray trust.

Gibb, at least must go. This whole debacle began when he and his boss insulted the public with misinformation.  To be fed lies in place of truth is not acceptable. Headteachers called the government out last week when statistics about spending on education in England were falsified. We are not stupid. The UK is not England and data about G7 nations do not equate with those from the OECD survey. 

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