KPMG Foundation report left out negative findings

An education foundation left out negative findings from a study of its flagship literacy programme.

In December the KPMG Foundation, the charity arm of the global consultancy firm, released the findings of a major study into the Reading Recovery programme.

The report said pupils on the programme, which the charity’s website describes as its “flagship project”, were twice as likely to get five good GCSEs.

But the original report, put together by academics at the UCL Institute of Education and seen by Schools Week, showed findings relating to a comparison group were left out of the version released by KPMG.

The original report said the Reading Recovery pupils “did not significantly outperform” pupils who were from the same school, but not on the programme.

Stephen Gorard, an education research methodology expert at Durham University, said the boost could have been the effect of school intervention, rather than the literacy programme.

UCL and KPMG have said the charity decided to remove the group because they had higher literacy scores to start with and so didn’t meet academic requirements for a comparison group.

But Gorard said KPMG should have “published all the results and explained properly” rather than gloss over the omission.

Reading Recovery, an intensive one-to-one intervention, was delivered to schools through a £10 million project called Each Child a Reader, launched under Labour, from 2005-08. The KPMG Foundation helped to fund the programme.

The landmark study, said to be the first of its kind in the UK to follow the progress of pupils over ten years, followed 239 children who did the Reading Recovery programme in 2005.

Of the 222 that could be traced ten years later, 49 per cent of the Reading Recovery group got five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths – compared with 23 per cent of pupils at schools without the programme.

The KPMG report says “the positive effect of Reading Recovery on qualifications at age 16 is marked […] and suggests a sustained intervention effect”.

Jennifer Buckingham, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Australia, who discovered the differences in the first report, said there was “no explanation for the omission”.

Jane Hurry, one of the UCL researchers, told Schools Week she was required to remove the comparison group of pupils to meet the requirements of an academic journal.

It said that the different groups of pupils in the study must be matched at baseline on key indicators, which meant the control group with higher literacy scores had to be removed.

Hurry said the foundation made a “last-minute decision” to remove the group and produce a summary “suitable for a lay audience”.

The original UCL report will be published by the university after it has been peer reviewed, she said.

Stuart Kime, from Evidence-Based Education, said: “Communicating the results of studies with control groups can be challenging, so it may be that a decision was taken for the ease of comms.

“Nevertheless, the rationale is irrelevant when it’s put in the context of selective publication or publication bias. From a scientific perspective, publishing everything is the most defensible thing to do.”

A KPMG spokesperson confirmed a decision was made to “remove the group from the report, which was approved by the academic experts” at UCL.

The charity was “assured by UCL that standard academic procedures” had been followed. The company’s support for the study had now finished.