Hinds defends funding and Ofsted statistics, but admits literacy claims 'could have been clearer'

The education secretary has defended his department’s use of statistics on school funding and improvement following today’s “humilitating” rebuke by the UK Statistics Authority.

However, Damian Hinds admitted the government “could have been clearer” in its claims about child literacy, which the UKSA warned today were “not correct”.

Hinds has written to Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UKSA, in response to a series of letters sent to the Department for Education this morning.

I believe it is important to establish that the proportion of children in schools whose last Ofsted judgement was good or outstanding has risen

In its intervention, the fourth in the space of a year, the UKSA warned that recent claims about school funding were “presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes” and said statistics about the number of children in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools did not “give a full picture”.

However, in his letter, Hinds defended both claims.

“On overall school funding, core funding is rising to £43.5 billion by 2019-20,” he said. “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.

“Regarding the 1.9 million 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 per cent in 2010 to 86 per cent 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 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools.”

The government has also been criticised for claims over England’s place in global child literacy rankings by the schools minister Nick Gibb. The minister claimed that England “leapfrogged up the rankings last year, after decades of falling standards, going from 19th out of 50 countries to 8th”.

Norgrove said that this claim was “not correct”, as “figures published last year show the increase was from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016”.

In his response, Hinds said although it was “true to say that we have achieved our highest score in PIRLS since it first began in 2001”, Gibb should have been more clear.

“We agree that we could have been clearer that the improvement from 19th to 8th was between 2006 and 2016,” he admitted.

“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.”

Hinds added that he was “keen” to work with the UKSA, and that “we want all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the
right context”.

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said Norgrove’s intervention amounted to a “humiliating rebuke” for ministers.

“The education decretary 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.”