Category: Education

The Conservatives really can’t read simple graphs

The Conservatives clearly need some lessons in how to read graphs. Well it’s either that or they have  become extremely at ease with gaslighting the UK public, editing our collective perceptions, accounts, experiences and social history, while presenting evidence that contradicts their lies, unabashed. 

Last week I reported Dominic Raab’s  oblivion to the fact that despite his grand claims that wages were rising faster than they did over the last decade (most of which featured a Conservative government), the graph he posted as evidence actually demonstrated that real wages are lower today than 10 years ago, when Labour were in office. After being mocked a lot, he subsequently deleted his rather foolish Tweet. 


Now James Cleverly is at it. It’s curious that he also presents the evidence that his headline is fake news:

me cleverlyaide cleverly

 

I wonder when Cleverly – who really should change his surname to ‘Sillysausagerly’ or even ‘pork pies’ – will delete the evidence of his foolish moment?

He claims he could clearly read Jeremy Corbyn’s lips in parliament last week too.

But he seems incapable of recognising what is right in front of him.

I deeply suspect he was being Conservative with the truth yet again.

 


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Authoritarian government warns headteachers against expressing ‘political views’

Last year, thousands of headteachers across England wrote a letter to parents to warn that there is “simply not enough money in the system” to fund schools properly, as their costs continue to rise and budgets come under severe pressure.

The letter from more than 4,000 heads told around a million families that the government’s then new national funding formula would still mean that their children face an unfair “postcode lottery”, with some schools able to afford class sizes of 20 but similar schools in other regions forced to have classes of 35 pupils.

The head teachers said that the proposed national funding formula will do little to solve the funding crisis affecting many state schools.

Now, campaigners are concerned that the government wants to ‘gag’ teachers in England over the issue of diminishing funding and resources in schools. 

A revision was made in September to the Department for Education’s (DfE)’s document entitled Staffing and employment advice for schools– billed as departmental advice for school leaders, governing bodies and local authorities – which contained a new paragraph with a blunt statement in a staff management section.

It states: “All staff have a responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately in terms of their behaviour, the views they express (in particular political views) and the use of school resources at all times, and should not use school resources for party political purposes.” 

The warning, which was first reported by Schools Week, comes after campaigns by school leaders over budget cuts that have irked the government, and high-profile union activity targeting parents during the previous general election campaign, which may have cost the Conservative party votes. 

However, headteachers and teaching unions have said they will defy any attempts by the DfE to block legitimate criticism, following the warning to teachers in England against expressing “political views”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Headteachers have long had a legal responsibility to provide a balanced presentation of opposing views when teaching political or controversial subjects.

“This update simply brings this guidance in line with the law, which makes clear that headteachers and local authorities must not promote partisan political views in school.” 

However, Jules White, a headteacher behind the Worth Less? national group of school leaders that has organised critical letters on funding, said: “If expressing political views is about biased and ill-judged grandstanding by heads and teachers, then I fully support the DfE’s views.

“If, on the other hand, the DfE wishes headteachers to be gagged as they simply tell the truth about the financial and teacher supply crisis that our schools are facing then this is unacceptable.

“Worth Less? always uses independent evidence from sources such as the IFS and DfE data itself to support the legitimate concerns it raises with parents and the public. Our claims are never disputed, but frequently ignored.

“I will continue to lead our campaign and speak out in a reasonable and considered manner on behalf of colleagues and the children and families that we serve.”

Last year, Worth Less? organised 5,000 headteachers to lobby the government, while White and his colleagues oversaw a letter sent to an estimated 2.5 million households via pupils from thousands of state schools.

Geoff Barton, a former headteacher who is now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, derided the DfE’s advice and suggested it would be unlikely to deter teachers from campaigning.

It is perfectly reasonable for school leaders and teachers to be able to articulate their concerns … and it is clearly in the public interest for them to have a voice. You cannot disenfranchise 450,000 teachers from talking about education,” he said.

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said: “The Tories are trying to ban teachers from whistleblowing when schools cuts bite into our children’s education. They may hope to silence teachers, but they can’t get away from the fact that they will have cut £3bn from school budgets by 2020.

“If the government wants to know why teachers are publicly criticising them, they need only look at their own record of broken promises. They even cancelled their ‘guarantee’ that every school would receive a cash increase.”

The non partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says that since 2009school spending per pupil in England has fallen by about 8% in real terms, with a smaller fall in Wales of about 5%.

While total school spending has risen in England by about 1% in real terms over this period, a 10% rise in pupil numbers means that the only slightly increased resources are now rather more thinly spread.

Damian Hinds had only been education secretary for a month when Labour shadow secretary, Angela Rayner, reported him to the UK Statistics Authority for making the incorrect claim that “real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system”. Themistake’ was corrected, and six months into the job, Hinds says he recognised not only that school budgets are being cut, but that such cuts are unsustainable and destructive.

Yet despite Hinds’ claim that he has grasped some of the problems facing schools, he has offered no solution.

In September, Hinds was forced to apologise to the families affected by the Whitehaven Academy scandal, and pledged to “do everything we can to stop it happening again”. Hinds said images of the Cumbria school’s squalid facilities shown in a recent BBC Panorama investigation were “very striking”, and said he was “sorry” for everyone affected.

The secondary school has been at the centre of a row over the way the private company Bright Tribe runs its schools in the north of England for years, but matters came to a head last autumn when flooding damaged already “dilapidated” buildings on the school site, and the chain announced it was walking away.

It has since emerged that the DfE was warned of problems as far back as 2015, but had taken no action.  The governmenthad approved the academy initiative. Bright Tribe had taken the money intended for repairs to the school, and then not carried out the work. 

Michael Dwan, who set up Bright Tribe and had previously made a fortune of over a hundred million pounds from similar arrangements in NHS provision, said “I am not in control of the trusts and never have been.”

Hinds told Schools Week: “I am sorry for the families involved with Whitehaven, of course I am, and as secretary of state for education, ultimately responsibility for the school system sits with me, and particularly the academy part of the school system, then especially so.” 

“I want to make sure that we learn from what happened, and make sure that we do everything we can to stop it happening again.”

The controversial Bright Tribe academy trust confirmed in September that the final six of the ten schools it ran will be ‘re-brokered’,

The wind-up of the trust follows a turbulent year which saw its founder, property tycoon Michael Dwan, resign last September. New trustees, installed by the government, are now investigating allegations of misuse of public money.

The Bright Tribe founder Michael Dwan withdrew his support from the ailing trust amid frustrations over government scrutiny and concerns that his ‘efforts had gone unrecognised’, copies of letters and emails obtained by Schools Week revealed in July.

The new bosses, who include two school leaders that specialise in the winding up of failing trusts, are investigating allegations that Bright Tribe made repeated false claims for building and maintenance grants at Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, the first school to be given up by the private trust.

The school is now in limbo, it does not have the option to return to local authority control. It cannot make long-term planning decisions, hire new permanent members of staff or organise pay rises. The government has offered no solution, struggling to find a new chain willing and able to take on the school, which is in a precarious financial position.

By the end of 2017, 64 academy status schools were waiting to find a new sponsor after being abandoned by, or relinquished by their managing trust. Using average enrolments of 279 pupils for state primary schools and 946 for state secondary schools this would mean over 40,000 students are adversely affected.

Legitimate criticism of government policies that have negative consequences on children, public sector staff and the tax paying public isn’t ‘expressing political views’; it is an absolute necessity for a functioning democracy.

A government that labels valid concerns ‘political views’ is an oppressive, authoritarian, gaslighting one.

You can watch the Panorama documentary, Profits before Pupils? The Academies Scandal, here.

 

Related

Pupils with Special needs are being failed by system ‘on verge of crisis’

 


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Damian Hinds rebuked for misusing statistics and being conservative with the truth

The statistics watchdog today issued a stern rebuke to Damian Hinds (pictured last week at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham) accusing his department of misleading the public over school funding and standards

Education Secretary David Hinds’ careful use of numbers doesn’t add up

The chair of the UK’s statistics watchdog has written to education secretary Damian Hinds for the fourth time this year, raising “serious concerns” about his department’s use of school funding statistics.

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) launched an investigation into the Department for Education over a minister’s claim that it was spending “record amounts” on school funding, after it emerged that the figures included billions of pounds of university and private school fees.

The figures cited by the DfE and school standards minister Nick Gibb, in defending the government’s spending on education, included the money paid out by university students on tuition fees and money that parents spent on private school fees.

Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to Hinds this morning, chastising him for repeatedly using misleading statistics to support misleading claims.

Hetan Shah, CEO of the Royal Statistical Society, described the rebuke as “blistering”, and said it was “amazing” for Sir David to send such a letter to a minister. 

“Extraordinary that [the Uk Statistical Authority] has felt it necessary to seek the secretary of state’s reassurance that his department remains committed to the statutory code of practice for statistics and, secondary that [the DfE] will start behaving in a manner that ‘does not mislead’,” he tweeted. 

The row erupted last week after the DfE and Gibb cited figures saying that the UK was the third-highest spender on education as a proportion of economic output in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of wealthy nations.

His comments came after more than 2,000 headteachers marched to Downing Street to protest at funding cuts. Headteachers also accused the government of eroding trust. Jules White, the head of Tanbridge House school in West Sussex and leader of the Worth Less? group, which has lobbied for fairer funding, said: “Parents and the wider public have a right to know the facts and the government cannot have it both ways; you cannot slash our budgets and then pretend all’s well. 

“The constant use of misinformation is placing an intolerable strain on headteachers’ relationships with the DfE. Trust is being eroded. We respectfully request the DfE to publicly set the record straight and, much more crucially, work with the chancellor to make a real-terms investment in our schools in the upcoming budget. ”

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “If trust goes, there is little left for the profession to hold on to. Failing to face up to the truth will cheat an entire generation. The chancellor must now step up and rescue education funding. It is in the national interest.”

Mary Bousted, joint leader of the NEU teaching union, branded the DfE’s use of figures as “appalling.”  

Hinds has defended the department’s use of figures today in a letter to the Statistics Authority, and pledged to work closely with it to ensure that “all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the right context”.

The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said the UKSA letter represented a “humiliating rebuke” for Conservative ministers and called on the government to come clean over the crisis in school funding.

The intervention by the UKSA follows a row last week over a claim by the DfE and the schools standards minister, Nick Gibb, that the UK’s spending on education was the third highest in the world.

Complaints were made to the UKSA after it emerged in a BBC report that the OECD figures on which the claim was based included university student tuition fees as well as fees paid by private school pupils.

Hinds wrote to MPs over the weekend defending his department’s claims, but following its investigation, the UKSA ruled the figure “included a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools … rather than a comparison of school spending alone. 

The result was to give a more favourable picture. Yet the context would clearly lead readers to expect that the figures referred to spending on schools

An accompanying letter by Ed Humpherson, UKSA’s director general for regulation, to the DfE’s chief statistician piled on the criticism.

“The way statistics have been presented gives a potentially misleading picture of changes in schools funding,” he wrote. “It is important that the department present statistics and data professionally and I encourage you to continue to work with communication teams to minimise the risk of misleading the public.”

The UKSA complained about a DfE tweet on school funding featuring a graph with a truncated axis which had the effect of “exaggerating” school spending figures. The information was also presented in cash terms rather than real terms.

It also criticised Gibb’s claim that in an international survey of reading abilities of nine-year-olds, England had leaped up the rankings last year after decades of falling standards, moving from 19th out of 50 countries to 8th. “This is not correct,” Norgrove pointed out. “Figures published last year show the increase was from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016.”

The UKSA also ruled on a complaint from shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, about the DfE’s oft-repeated claim that there were now “1.9 million more young people studying in good or outstanding schools”. The authority said the figure did not give a full picture and should be set in the context of increasing pupil numbers, changes to the inspection framework and out-of-date inspections.

“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,” said David Norgrove.

The education secretary responded to the UKSA saying his department was “looking into the precise issues raised” but he went on to largely defend the disputed claims.

Here are both letters:

Header

The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP
Secretary of State for Education
(via email)

8 October 2018

Dear Secretary of State

I am writing to raise with you serious concerns about the Department for Education’s presentation and use of statistics. 

The UK Statistics Authority has had cause to publicly write to the Department with concerns on four occasions in the past year. 1 

I regret that the Department does not yet appear to have resolved issues with its use of statistics. Last week, the Minister of State for School Standards 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.”2. This is not correct. Figures published last year show the increase was from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016. 

My attention has also been drawn to a recent tweet and blog issued by the Department regarding education funding. 3 As the Authority’s Director General for Regulation has noted in a letter to the Department today, figures were presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding. In the tweet, school spending figures were exaggerated by using a truncated axis, and by not adjusting for per pupil spend. In the blog about government funding of schools (which I note your Department has now updated), an international comparison of spend which included a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools was used, rather than a comparison of school spending alone. The result was to give a more favourable picture. Yet the context would clearly lead readers to expect that the figures referred to spending on schools. 

The Shadow Secretary of State for Education has written to express concerns about your use of a figure that appears to show a substantial increase in the number of children in high performing schools, as judged by OFSTED. 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. 

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.

I seek your reassurance that the Department remains committed to the principles and practices defined in the statutory Code of Practice for Statistics. In particular, I urge the Department to involve the analysts closely in the development of its communications, to ensure that data are properly presented in a way that does not mislead. 

I have asked the Authority’s Director-General for Regulation, Ed Humpherson to speak with 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. 

I am copying this letter to the Minister of State for School Standards, to Mr Slater and Mr McIvor, and to John Pullinger, the National Statistician. 

  Yours sincerely
Sir David
  Sir David Norgrove

1 Letter from Ed Humpherson to Head of Profession (March 2018) National Pupil Database Access
Letter from Sir David Norgrove to Shadow Secretary of State for Education (March 2018), School Funding
Letter from Ed Humpherson to Head of Profession (January 2018) International Reading Literacy Study
Letter from Ed Humpherson to Jonathan Slater (November 2017) Department for Education breaches of the Code of Practice

2 The Telegraph (27 September 2018): Our whizzpopping phonics revolution is transforming literacy in schools
3 Department for Education (28 September 2018): Tweet regarding school funding
Department for Education (28 September 2018): Education in the Media: Funding

 

response
Dear David,

Thank you for your letter. 

I appreciate you drawing your concerns to my attention and very much welcome the work by the UKSA to ensure communication of statistics across Government meets the highest standards. We are keen to work closely with the UKSA and we want all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the right context.

We are looking into the precise issues that you raise, and the Permanent Secretary will write to the UKSA shortly with a more detailed response. It may be helpful though to respond on the points of substance, including for the public including for the public
record.

Taking funding first – we need to be clear about different types of funding and spending. However, several statistics in the OECD’s 2018 report comparing expenditure in 2015 (which as you know are the latest comparative data published by the OECD) 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. It is true to say that the OECD has ranked the UK as the third highest for total education spending – the figure which includes tertiary and private education for every country. A more direct statistic about school spending
specifically is that among G7 nations the UK government spent the highest percentage of its GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education.

On overall school funding, core funding is rising to £43.5bn by 2019-20. Of course, I recognise that pupil numbers are rising, we are asking schools to do more and schools are facing cost pressures. I am on record setting this out with a range of different audiences and agree that context is important.

Moving on to the survey of reading abilities, it is true to say that we have achieved our highest score in PIRLS since it first began in 2001 – in 2016 we were placed joint 8th. We agree that we could have been clearer that the improvement from 19th to 8th was between 2006 and 2016. We have put a great deal of emphasis on the teaching of phonics, introducing the phonics screening check in 2012, and since then many more six year olds are on track to be fluent readers.

Regarding the 1.9m statistic, I believe it is important to establish that 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. 

Our methodology is published at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/children-in-good-or-outstandingschools-august-2018As you know, Ofsted use a range of triggers for a reinspection, such as an unexpected fall in exam performance.

Naturally we want to ensure we always present those factually accurate statements, and all others, in line with your Code of Practice for Statistics and I look forward to working with your team further on that. More widely, in the interests of making sure the public debate is well-informed, I hope that others who produce and use statistics which become regularly cited will also aspire to the highest standards of data integrity, and that the UKSA can play a role in challenging where data could easily be open to misinterpretation.

Thank you once again and please be assured of my, and my department’s, continued commitment to working with you on the integrity of statistics and informing the public debate.

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Related

A list of official rebukes for Tory lies

Esther Mcvey forced to apologise for being conservative with the truth

It’s truly priceless that Iain Duncan Smith can accuse anyone of misrepresenting statistics with a straight face.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Fourteen year old Hasan Patel’s fantastic speech at the Free Education Now rally yesterday

To hear Hasan’s speech, you may have to click on the sound icon at the bottom of the video screen and turn the sound up. 

Fourteen year old Hasan Patel, who campaigns for Leyton and Wanstead Labour Party, made his first ever speech to a crowd of thousands in Parliament Square yesterday, at the Free Education Now rally in central London, where hundreds of students marched in central London on Wednesday, demanding the abolition of tuition fees in the UK. The speech is spectacular and worth listening to.

Hasan says: “I was seven when the Tories got into power. Seven year olds don’t cause an economic crisis, but they closed my youth centre, anyway”.

Hasan also talks about the impact of cuts to his school, and about student debt and poor pay. He tells us of the utter mess that the Conservatives have made, and will be leaving the next generation.

Earlier this month, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sent a message of support for the cause of abolishing tuition fees and shadow chancellor John McDonnell addressed the students before another rally. 

McDonnell said: “Your generation has been betrayed by this government in increases to tuition fees, in scrapping the education maintenance allowance and cuts in education.” 

“Education is a gift from one generation to another, it is not a commodity to be bought and sold,” he told the protesters

John McDonnell

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled because of an illness called lupus. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

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