We'll build trust in our school funding stats, says DfE chief

The Department for Education’s most senior civil servant has said he wants to build the department’s reputation as “a trustworthy communicator of statistics” after ministers received another slap-down from the stats watchdog.

Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary to the DfE, has written to the UK Statistics Authority to promise action to make information provided by the government on funding “more easy to navigate”.

The government has repeatedly come under fire for its claims about school funding. Schools Week revealed last week how senior government ministers, including the prime minister, continue to claim “more money than ever before” is going to schools, despite being warned by the UKSA that such a claim is misleading.

Just last month, the DfE was ordered by the UKSA to publish a “comprehensive set” of official figures on school funding in its fifth slap down of the department in 18 months.

The UKSA urged the department to focus on “not just whether the statements correctly quote the statistics, but also whether, in the context, the use being made of them is liable to mislead”.

In response, Slater said his department had taken “a number of steps over the last few months to ensure statistics are always accurate and used in the appropriate context”.

“More broadly, I am committed to ensuring we build the department’s reputation as a trustworthy communicator of statistics,” he said.

Slater acknowledged the facts around school funding “are complex”, and said the debate around the issue could be “impassioned”, but said the DfE was heeding the UKSA’s advice to look at better ways to present information about it.

“The department publishes a wide range of information on school funding and on funding of the wider education system,” he said.

“I agree with you that there is more we can do to bring that wide range of information into one place and to help users navigate this complex landscape, as well as to consider the potential for additional information where this would be helpful.

“We have recently published a ‘contents page’ for school funding streams on our website and are considering what more we can do in this area. My officials will continue to work with your team as we develop our plans.”