DfE drags top OECD statistics guru into schools spending row

Janet Downs's picture

Desperate attempt to make it appear DfE data has OECD seal of approval

In its panicked attempts to defuse the severe reprimand from the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) about the Department for Education’s misuse of date, the DfE has responded by citing Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the OECD.  

The figures used by Schleicher refer to the entire UK not just England.  But the DfE still wheels out the UK data to downplay mounting criticism about inadequate spending on England’s schools.

The correctness of OECD data not the issue

Schleicher confirms UK total education expenditure, including private and international spending, is ‘above the OECD average at primary, secondary, and tertiary level of education’.  We know that.  But the issue at stake is not the correctness of the statement – the issue is its use in the context of public spending in England.    As UKSA said yesterday, using figures ‘unrelated to publicly funded schools’ gave ‘a more favourable picture’ of education funding in England.

DfE continues to pump the G7 comparison

The UK (not just England)  topped the league for public spending on schools in the small group of G7 countries.  The DfE blog mentioned the G7 comparison three times.  The blog links to three spreadsheets where readers, presuming they know which countries are in the G7, can whizz up and down spotting the seven countries and compare their figures with the UK’s.

There’s a much easier way to make comparisons.  Just link to the interactive OECD data* which allows sorting.  In addition to the much-hyped G7 comparison, UK public spending on primary to post-secondary (non-tertiary) education ranked as follows:

  • 4th among G20 and the 28 EU countries
  • 8th among OECD countries
  • 12th among all 44 countries in the OECD data

Questions around Schleicher’s involvement

 Was Schleicher  made aware of the damning UKSA censure of the DfE when asked for a comment?   Or was he just asked to repeat data already published by the OECD?   When was he asked?  In the last few days?  Or are his words a comment he made some time ago which have been wheeled out to give DfE statements an apparent OECD seal of approval?

We don’t know the answers to these questions.  What we do know is that the DfE has rushed into print to soften UKSA’s reproach.  But it’s not working

See BBC Reality Check for unspun commentary re school funding   


*Downloadable here

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Nicola Jack's picture
Tue, 09/10/2018 - 19:47

Is the figure of 7% of the cohort educated independently correct for England, or is it the UK as a whole? Do we have the figures for England? How do they compare with OECD countries generally?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/10/2018 - 09:08

Hi Nicola - latest data for 2018 from DfE statisticians (not to be confused with the DfE media spin unit) say there are 7,974,695 pupils in state primary and secondary schools in England.  The total number of pupils in schools in England, both private and independent, is 8,735,098.  That means 760,403 pupils are privately educated (if my calculation is correct).  That's a percentage of roughly 9% (again, if my calculation is correct).

The OECD found the UK (not just England) spent 0.58% of GDP on private primary and secondary education in 2015 (see here for chart).  The UK was the 8th biggest spender on private primary and secondary education out of the 44 countries included in the data, 6th out of 35 OECD countries and top private spender in the EU and G7.

Nicola Jack's picture
Wed, 10/10/2018 - 10:06

Thank you Janet. So the UK is pretty high up on the list of spenders on independent education.....which seems to me to make the comments by Ministers even more implausible

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