A teaching union-backed campaign has been reprimanded by the statistics watchdog for its claim that 91 per cent of schools face funding cuts.
The School Cuts Coalition, which is endorsed by all the major teaching unions, was criticised by the UK Statistics Authority for publishing “misleading” figures on its website.
The watchdog examined the campaign’s figures after James Cleverly MP, the Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, wrote a letter of complaint.
The watchdog’s chair Sir David Norgrove yesterday (Thursday 17 January) revealed that he had contacted the website’s analyst to share his own concerns.
In response to Mr Cleverly’s letter, Mr Norgrove wrote: “We believe the headline statement that ‘91% of schools face funding cuts’ risks giving a misleading impression of future changes in school budgets.
“The method of calculation may also give a misleading impression of the scale of change for some particular schools.”
He continued: “We were able to replicate the high-level figures given by the School Cuts website. It was not however possible to reproduce the exact figures published on the website, as the underlying data are not publicly available and the methodology is not wholly clear.”
Mr Norgrove said the most significant issue was that the figures on the website were a combination of school budget reductions which have already been made and those expected to take place in the future, and that the 91 per cent figure only covers England but the website suggested it covered Wales too.
He also pointed out that the underlying calculations inflate the 2015/16 baseline funding to what it would have been with each school’s 2015/16 per pupil funding, but using 2017/18 pupil numbers – portraying a worse picture for schools where pupil numbers are increasing.
School Cuts said it stood by its figures, writing in a statement: “The UK Statistics Authority is concerned that some readers might believe that all of these cuts are yet to happen. We are happy to clarify: the clear facts are that 91% of schools will experience real-terms cuts between 2015 and 2020. Some of those cuts have already happened, some are yet to come. All of them are damaging to children’s education.
“The UK Statistics Authority is also concerned that users of the website might not understand that some schools with rising pupil numbers will receive more cash. Again, we acknowledge the simple truth that schools with more children require more funding to provide the same level of education.
“Our website makes clear that per-pupil funding has been cut, and that in 91% of schools per-pupil funding will be lower in 2020 than in 2015. Even those schools with rising pupil numbers will be required to do more with less.
“We will be updating School Cuts shortly with the latest figures from Government. The release will look at the period 2015/16 to 2018/19 to show the scale of the cuts that have taken place since the Government made the manifesto commitment to ‘protect school funding’ in 2015.”
The Department for Education has itself faced a backlash for allegedly using misleading statistics.
An investigation was launched by the UK Statistics Authority in October last year after education ministers defended their record on state school spending by quoting figures which also included money spent by university students on tuition fees and parents on private school fees.
School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “We all have a duty to make sure the statistics we use in public debate are both factually accurate and used in the right context. This is especially important when talking about school funding so teachers and parents are presented with the facts and are not at risk of being misled.
“We have previously pointed out significant flaws in how the School Cuts campaign calculates and presents its statistics. We therefore welcome today’s letter from the UK Statistics Authority which confirms their approach risks giving a misleading impression of future changes in school budgets and that the method of calculation may also give a misleading impression of the scale of change for some particular schools.”