BBC Question Time, factchecked

Published: 20th Sep 2016

Finland, Canada and South Korea rank highly for education

“If you look at the countries that have the best educated children around the world, there are three countries that come up again and again and again… Finland, South Korea and Canada. And they have the most comprehensive systems.”

Alastair Campbell, 15 September 2016

Finland, South Korea and Canada have done consistently well in tests that compare 15-year olds in different countries.

We compared the last three rounds of rankings from 2006, 2009 and 2012. Finland, South Korea and Canada were consistently placed in the top 10 for Science and Reading globally, although Finland and Canada slipped to 12th and 13th for Maths in 2012.

They’re not the only countries that have done consistently well in these tests. Looking at 2009 and 2012, four other regions have scored consistently within the top ten in reading, five others in science and seven others in maths.

As we’ve discussed previously, these tests aren’t a perfect guide to the relative performance of different education systems.

Finland’s state schools are comprehensive and unstreamed until pupils are 16. Canada has mainly comprehensive schools to 18, since the majority of upper secondary schools offer vocational and academic streams. South Korea’s schools are comprehensive until pupils are 15, which is the end of compulsory education.

So far, we haven’t seen any definitive evidence that the success of these systems is due to the fact that their systems are largely comprehensive. We’ll be looking into this further.

Grammar schools benefit some pupils but the majority do worse

“Children, if they are in a class with their own ability, are likely to hit off each other and do better as a result”

Quentin Letts, 15 September 2016

“All the evidence demonstrates that grammar schools will benefit a limited few but will not benefit others and do not raise standards overall.”

John McDonnell, 15 September 2016

The evidence suggests pupils who get into grammar schools perform better than they would under comprehensive education, and pupils who don’t perform worse.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, “there is robust evidence that attending a grammar school is good for the attainment and later earnings of those who get in”.

The IFS cites Northern Ireland, where the expansion of grammar schools in the 1980s raised exam results among those pupils newly able to attend them.

A major piece of research for the Sutton Trust found that “the majority of studies seem to find that pupils who attend grammar schools do better than equally able pupils in comprehensives”, although it didn’t endorse those findings without reservation.

Running their own analysis, the researchers found “a small positive advantage” in GCSE results among grammar school pupils, but said there were “good reasons to be cautious of describing this as a grammar school ‘effect’”.

And raising standards among pupils who attend grammar schools isn’t the same as raising standards across the board. “There is repeated evidence that any appearance of advantage for those attending selective schools is outweighed by the disadvantage for those who do not”, says Professor Stephen Gorard of Durham University. This is echoed by the IFS.


London schools outperform the rest of England

“Now we’ve got the best schools in the country [in London]. This isn’t as well about rich and poor areas, some of the best schools in London now, as a result of that investment, are in the poorest boroughs.”

John McDonnell, 15 September 2016

London pupils outperform England as a whole when it comes to exam results. This is commonly measured by the proportion of pupils getting at least five good GCSEs, including English and Maths.

In 2014/15, about 61% of London pupils achieved this, compared to 54% on average across England and higher than any other English region. There are also far fewer schools falling below the ‘floor standard’ where too few pupils get good GCSEs and progress as expected.

Pupils eligible for free school meals perform better in London than the rest of the country, and even the schools in areas where low pay is most common are above the English average.

Why? John McDonnell mentioned the London Challenge, which was an improvement programme for London secondary schools from 2003 to 2011. At its peak, it reportedly had a budget of £40 million a year.

The programme has since been praised for its impact on attainment. Ofsted concluded that “one of the key drivers behind the sustained improvement in London schools was the success of the London Challenge programme.”

Similarly, the Institute for Government points out a significant improvement in performance of London schools over the same decade and the experts it brought together agreed the programme “made a major contribution to the exceptional improvement in the capital’s schools”.

Polls didn't show a consistent Labour lead

“We've been working, over the last year, to unite the party, and we were winning electorally and in the polls.”

John McDonnell, 15 September 2016

“85 out of 89 polls prior to the so-called coup, we were behind. In the other four, we were neck and neck. So he’s just not telling the truth about the polls.”

Alastair Campbell, 15 September 2016

“At no point this year have the polls ever shown a consistent Labour lead” according to polling expert Anthony Wells from YouGov.

That’s the problem with the claim: you need more than a poll or two to know that you’re winning in the polls, whatever party you’re from.

Polls are uncertain and have a margin of error, which means if one party is apparently only slightly ahead of another, you can’t tell it’s actually in the lead from a single poll. You need a series of polls to show a consistent lead in order to be surer.

Only three have shown Labour ahead of the Conservatives at certain points in the last year, according to Anthony Well’s list of polls. One shortly after the referendum showed the two parties were neck and neck. Each time this has happened, most polls around the same time showed the Conservatives ahead.

Labour did win about half of the local council seats up for election earlier this year, a similar proportion to the previous comparable elections in 2012. It lost a small number of seats overall, though the Conservatives lost more.

Update 20 September 2016

We updated the article to make it clearer, including the claim and conclusion


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