Home > General Politics, Terrible Tories > Now the FT joins the literacy illiteracy

Now the FT joins the literacy illiteracy

Stephen Robinson, an ‘author and political commentator’ writing for the Financial Times today, is clearly a Michael Gove fan:

Michael Gove is surely on to something with his announcement this week of a long overdue shake-up of the curriculum. As successive secretaries of state have, year after year, hailed ever more implausible “improvements” in exam grades, Britain over the past decade has plummeted in the international rankings: from 4th to 16th in science; 7th to 25th in literacy; and 8th to 28th in maths.

Stephen Robinson, ‘author and political commentator’, is also utterly wrong, as is the sub-editor of a respectable newspaper for allowing this bilge through. 

The UK has simply not “plummeted in the international rankings”. Like ‘author and commentator’ Phillip Blond a couple of days ago, Robinson is quoting figures he’s picked up elsewhere, and clearly hasn’t bothered to look at the original OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, or at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NfER) summary of the OECD findings as they apply to England.

So once more with gusto……

The UK has NOT fallen from 7th to 25th in reading standards.  To say so is a lie.

The notion that UK is 25th  is the result of deliberate disinformation campaign by the Department for Education, subsequently repeated maliciously by the Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and picked up with jubilation by a popular press desperate to do down education and educators.

It is a lie because the DfE fails to tell you that:

1) Chinese Tapei and Denmark are placed above the UK in the international ‘league table’ in question because they start with an earlier letter in the alphabet. They have exactly the same score (495). This would put the UK joint 23rd.

2) Some 12 other countries, nominally above England in the 2009 tables, have statistically insignificant higher scores; statistically, the UK is not 23rd, but equal 13th, on this basis.  NfER makes this point explictly:

Because of the areas of uncertainty described above, interpretations of very small differences between two sets of results are often meaningless. Were they to be measured again, it could well be that the results would turn out the other way round (p.8)

3)  Shanghai and Signapore are above the UK in the 2009 tables but didn’t take part in the 2006 survey, so the UK can’t be said to have ‘fallen’ below them; in comparison with 2006, the UK might be said to be 11th.

4) In any event, the OECD’s warned explicitly (para 2) against comparing earlier PISA results with earlier data, because the very low response rate for earlier years created big concerns about sample validity. 

In keeping with this more sensible analysis, the NfER report in December 2010 said that:

England’s performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last PISA survey in 2006 (p.37).

This is decidedly not “plummeted in the international rankings:.

Space does not provide for a fuller review, but the picture is similar for maths and science. 

In science, the UK continues to do significantly better than the OECD PISA average,  and it is simply wrong to say the UK is in 28th place in maths, given the statistical insignificance and the introduction of new countries. Of maths, NfER says:

England’s performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last PISA survey, apart from a slight drop in the number of high-achieving pupils and a slight increase in the gender difference in favour of boys (p.30).

I hope both Robinson and Blond will be forced to apologise for their blatant peddling of  the DfE’s lies (Blond has so far not replied to the evidence I presented to him), but the buck has to stop with Gove. 

The deliberate use of misleading data for political gain – another ‘back to basics’ campaign as cover for government failure – should be a resignation matter. 

I do wonder why Labour’s education team has not picked up on this.




  1. James Harmston
    September 7, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Frankly, claiming that we are ‘equal 13th’ because 10 countries above us beat us by a ‘statistically insignificant’ amount is absolutely, desperately, pathetic. If athlete A gets 1000 points, and athlete B gets 1001, do they share the Gold medal?

    I wonder what your take would be if this was after 13 years of eeevil Tory ‘edukashun edukashun edukasun’. As if I need to guess. This is just yet more all-must-win prizes BS, and dogmatic refusal to see this lefty child centred crap fails everybody.

    Finally, even if we were ‘only’ 11th, it would represent an appalling drop in standards and competitiveness. No wonder this is the first comment after 3 months.

    Why do you bother?

  1. September 3, 2012 at 1:18 am
  2. September 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm
  3. September 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm

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