Is Stephen Twigg’s favourite Military Academy being liberal with the truth?
At the weekend I wrote a long post setting out how military schools might not bring the benefits that the Labour hierarchy is claims they will bring.
As part of the post, I fact-checked (somewhat sarcastically) Stephen Twigg/Jim Murphy’s claim that Duke of York Military Academy in Dover is a shining example of what military schools might provide in the way of academic achievement.
that the most commonly used measure of GCSE national averages is the percentage of pupils gaining five [or more] A*-C grades (incl. English and Maths), that the current national average for this is 59%, and that 118% of Duke of York School students therefore achieve five A*-Cs.
Impressive certainly. Also mathematically impossible.
I had assumed it was an error from Twigg/Murphy themselves - hence the sarcasm - but after a bit of digging I discovered that the claim about the School’s GCSE success comes directly from page 4 of the Duke of York Military Academy’s (DOYMA’s) own prospectus:
Our GCSE provision is comprehensive and our success rate is consistently twice that of the national average at GCSE (A*- C including Maths and English).
The terminology in the prospectus is very close to that used in the Department for Education tables, which provides the national average and the results for each school for the last four years. The national average for 2011 is, as noted, 59% for “% achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including English and maths GCSEs”, and I can see no other national average with which DOYMA’s results might reasonably be compared.
Hence, I just cannot see how the claim to have “consistently twice that of the national average” can be true, at least as of 2012. Even in 2008, when the national average was 47.6%, doubling it would have required 95.2% of DOY students to attain more than 5 GCSE A*-C grades, when in fact their 2011 results indicate that 91% did so*.
This is all very odd. Perhaps oddest is the fact that the prospectus could simply have noted its 91% achievement figure in 2011 – is impressive in its own terms** - and allow prospective parents and students to make their own comparisons. In contrast, the “consistently twice that of the national average” wording appears deliberately designed to disparage the results of other schools, invalidly as far as I can see.
If it turned out that DOYMA’s prospectus does turn out to contain a liberal interpretation of its comparative academic achievements, that would not in itself invalidate Twigg’s and Murphy’s central claim that military schools are good for young people. Nor should it be taken as a reason to denigrate the efforts of all the students at DOYMA, who no doubt deserve every success they get.
It would, however, reflect somewhat badly both on the Academy and upon two Shadow Ministers’ fact-checking processes.
*There are no DOYMA figures for the three years before 2011 in the tables, probably because its Academy status is new, so it is impossible to be certain, but if it did turn out that the school had achieved 95.4+%, and then slipped to 91% in 2011, other questions might validly be asked about the school’s success in moving to Academy status)
** As I noted in my original piece, DOYMA’s results were achieved with 0% students on Free School Meals (the common proxy for being from a poor family) and 0% with special educational needs (national averages 15.9% and 8.5% respectively). DOYMA might possibly argue that FSMs does not apply to boarding schools, though as far as I am aware the FSM indicators is based on primary school eligibility and used for a range of purposes, not simply to inform the distribution of free meals. Moreover, some 62% of students at DOYMA are already ‘high attainers’ (above level 4 at Key Stage 2), as against 27% in the school where I am a governor, for example. Taken together, these factors suggest that DOYMA’s results cannot be validly compared with the national average anyway.