Stats watchdog blasts Education Secretary Damian Hinds over ‘serious’ errors in school claims

Education Secretary’s numbers don’t add up: Statistics watchdog blasts Damian Hinds after his department was caught misleading the public over school funding and standards

-UK Statistics Authority wrote to Damian Hind to express ‘serious concerns’

-The department found to have misled on reading ability and school funding

-It is the fourth time the watchdog has written to the department in a year

The statistics watchdog today issued a stern rebuke to Damian Hinds accusing his department of misleading the public over school funding and standards.

Stats watchdog blasts Education Secretary Damian Hinds over 'serious' errors in school claims

The UK Statistics Authority blasted the education department for spinning the figures to make it look like schools are doing better than they are.

Chairman David Norgrove has written to the Education Secretary to express his ‘serious concerns’ about his use of the numbers.

Labour have described the letter as a “humiliating rebuke” for Tory ministers who have been reprimanded four times for their use of stats over the last year.

Sir David highlighted four occasions that had caused the authority concern but stressed that there was no sign that ministers had learned from their mistakes.

Ministers downplayed concerns from headteachers who marched on Parliament to protest school funding by insisting that the UK was “the third highest spender on education in the world”.

But a BBC report found the figures also included money spent by university students on tuition fees and parents on private school fees prompting the stats authority to launch an investigation.

Today, just minutes before the letter from Sir David was published, Education Secretary Damian Hinds doubled down on claims about the UK’s spending compared to other countries.

Sir David referred to a number of occasions when they were forced to criticise the department.

Last week, the Minister of State for School Standards Nick Gobb wrote that, in an international survey of reading abilities of nine-year-olds, England “leapfrogged up the rankings last year, after decades of falling standards, going from 19th out of 50 countries to 8th.”

Sir David said in this letter: “This is not correct. Figures published last year show the increase was from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016.”

He also highlighted a recent tweet and blog from the department in which he said “figurees were presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding.”

He explained that spending was “exaggerated by using a truncated axis, and by not adjusting for per pupil spend”.

Sir David also referenced the claim which the BBC exposed – which the department has since updated – saying that the original way it was presented used “a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools” to “give a more favourable picture”.

The stats chief also highlighted concerns raised by Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner over the DfE’s claim that there had been a “substantial increase” in the number of children attending high performing schools as judged by regulator Ofsted.

In his speech to Tory party conference, Mr Hinds said that 1.9 million more kids are “studying in good or outstanding schools” under the Conservatives, prompting the Labour frontbencher to demand an investigation.

In his letter, Sir David said that while the claim was “accurate as far as it goes,” it had failed to “give a full picture” and should have been put in context with an overall rise in pupil numbers as well as changes to the way inspections are carried out.

He added: “The UK Statistics Authority has had cause to publicly write to the department with concerns on four occasions in the past year. I regret that the department does not yet appear to have resolved issues with its use of statistics.

“I seek your reassurance that the department remains committed to the principles and practices defined in the statutory code of practice for statistics.”

Sir David also revealed he had asked the Authority’s Director-General for Regulation, Ed Humpherson to speak with the most senior civil servant Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, and to Neil McIvor, Head of Profession for Statistics at the Department for Education, “about what the Department might do to improve its practice” in a highly unusual move.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The Conservatives are misleading the public in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that they have cut school budgets.”

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, 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.

“They have used misleading figures on school funding to hide the fact that they have cut billions of pounds from school budgets, leaving head-teachers forced to beg for donations from parents to pay for books and stationary.

“And their claims on school standards are now in tatters. Instead of relying on discredited statistics they should use the Budget to invest in schools and genuinely improve standards.”

“The next Labour government will fairly fund all schools, as part of a National Education Service for the many, not the few.”

Damian Hinds published his letter responding to Sir David in which he said his department was “keen to work closely with the UKSA and we want all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the right context.”

But Mr Hinds challenged a number of the authority’s criticisms insisting that the UK is “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”.

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