Monday 8 October 2018 3:35 pm

Education secretary Damian Hinds blasted by statistics watchdog for 'serious' concerns over use of figures


Education secretary Damian Hinds has been given a public dressing down by the statistics watchdog after his department made misleading and incorrect claims about England's schools.

Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has written to Hinds urging him to hire analysts to check before future information is given out in speeches and tweets.

The letter lists three examples of foul play from the Department for Education, with claims about school funding and standards missing key context.

A claim from junior minister Nick Gibb that in 2016 the UK had "leapfrogged" up a league table of reading abilities of nine-year-olds was "not correct" – with the UK rising two places, not the 11 claimed.

After describing his "serious concerns" with the department's "presentation and use of statistics", Sir David said: "I am sure you share my concerns that instances such as these do not help to promote trust and confidence in official data, and indeed risk undermining them."

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner called the letter 'humiliating' (Source: Getty)

It is the fifth time since November 2017 that the UK Statistics Authority has written to the Department for Education over its use of figures, prompting Sir David to "seek your reassurance that the department remains committed to the principles and practices defined in the statutory Code of Practice for Statistics."

He added: "In particular, I urge the department to involve analysts closely in the development of its communications, to ensure that data are properly presented in a way that does not mislead."

The complaint about school funding related to a tweet and a blog put out by the department on 28 September. Both were deemed to "misrepresent changes in school funding" as they did not compare like-with-like figures when put alongside how much cash went into other countries' education systems.

Hinds, who has been education secretary since January 2018, was also to taken to task over a boast in his speech to the Conservative party conference last week that 1.9m more children are "studying in good or outstanding schools" since the Tories came to office in 2010.

Sir David said: "While accurate as far as it goes, this figure does not give a full picture. It should be set in the context of increasing pupil numbers, changes to the inspection framework and some inspections that are now long in the past, as an earlier letter to the Department from the Office of Statistics Regulation pointed out."

In response, Hinds argued the figures do back up the claim of additional funding for schools, writing: "Several statistics in the OECD’s 2018 report comparing expenditure in 2015…demonstrate the UK as being among the higher spenders on education at primary and secondary level, whether you look at spend as a share of GDP, spend as a share of government spending or spend per pupil."

Tackling the concerns raised over the 1.9m statistic, Hinds claimed: "The proportion of children in schools whose last Ofsted judgement was Good or Outstanding has risen from 66% in 2010 to 86% in March 2018; to make this more intelligible we tend to use the number of children rather than a percentage figure – hence we express it as 1.9m more children in Good or Outstanding schools."

Labour's shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “This is a humiliating rebuke for Tory ministers. The education secretary has not even been in office for a year, yet this is the fourth time he has been caught by the government’s own watchdog making a claim that is wildly misleading or blatantly false.

“They need to come clean and stop deceiving the public in a desperate attempt to cover up their shocking record."