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Government accused of misleading parents over schools' success

A former statistician at the Department for Education (DfE) has accused the government of misleading parents over school improvement by using a “flawed” figure to claim progress.

Jon Andrews, who worked in the department for 13 years, said the government’s favourite claim that “1.9 million more children are in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010” misrepresents the level of improvement in school standards.

The statistic is used habitually by the government as a way of illustrating the success of the Conservatives’ education policies since they came to power in 2010. It is documented at least 40 times in Hansard – used by two prime ministers, four secretaries of state and numerous ministers – and is cited repeatedly by the DfE press office.

Andrews, who is the deputy head of research at the Education Policy Institute (EPI) thinktank, but was working in the department when the controversial statistic first took hold, is calling on the government to ditch the claim as he says it does not represent a fair comparison.

“It is easy to see why it is used,” said Andrews. “It’s snappy, it’s easy for non-specialists to understand, it’s factually accurate and, the ultimate for lines to take, it’s an impressively big number.

“The problem is that it fails an important test of any statistic – it does not show the user what the producer believes it shows.

“In this case, it does not adequately demonstrate that standards in schools have improved since 2010, at least not to the extent that a quarter of all pupils are in significantly better schools because of any policy intervention.”

Andrews, writing in an EPI research paper, said one of the problems with the statistic is it does not reflect the significant growth in pupil numbers of 560,000 between 2010 and 2017.

It also fails to take into account the large numbers of schools not inspected by Ofsted for many years – 124,000 pupils are in schools that have not been inspected for 10 years – and the possible impact of a new Ofsted grading system, he said.

When asked for a response, the DfE said: “The facts are clear – the vast majority of pupils are in good or outstanding schools across the country, 1.9 million more than in 2010, and an increase from 66% to 86% over that time.

“Academic standards continue to rise, with more pupils reaching the expected standard in maths at the end of primary school and 154,000 more six-year-olds on track to become fluent readers since the phonics check was introduced in 2012.”


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