Government resurfaces misleading claim about good or outstanding schools

1 May 2019
What was claimed

85% of schools are good and outstanding schools, vs 68% in 2010.

Our verdict

This refers to England, and doesn’t acknowledge changes to inspection practices. A significant chunk of pupils are in schools that haven’t been inspected since 2010.

“Our schools have made great progress: 85% of schools are good and outstanding schools, vs 68% in 2010”

Damian Hinds MP, 29 April 2019

This statement from the Secretary of State for Education is technically accurate for England, but misleading without a lot more context.

The government is resurfacing a variant of a statistic which has been roundly criticised in the past (and still suffers from many of the same problems).

Last October, we called on the government to stop making a similar claim about there being 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools since 2010, and the figure was also criticised by the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority for not giving “a full picture.”

We pointed out at the time that the Department for Education’s claim didn’t acknowledge that a significant chunk of the increase will simply be down to more children being in schools in the first place.

The government has since tweaked the claim, to talk about the percentage of schools being good or outstanding, rather than the number of children in them. This does address the pupil numbers issue, but other problems remain. Most crucially, inspection practices mean we can’t properly compare the levels today with those in 2010.

The issue is that schools rated below good or outstanding are prioritised for re-inspection (so their ratings might go up). But if a school is already rated highly, it is less likely to be inspected again (so its rating won’t go down).

As of 2017, almost 580,000 pupils were in schools that were rated good or outstanding, but which hadn’t been inspected since at least 2010—so we don’t really know if they are actually still good or outstanding nearly a decade down the line.

In other words, the system is set up in such a way that you would expect the number of schools with a good or outstanding rating to go up over time, even if that might not necessarily reflect the real situation.

The ratings system for schools also changed in 2012, which could have further affected the numbers.

These points should not come as a surprise to the Secretary of State for Education, and the government should not be using this statistic.

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