UK Statistics Authority issues warning on ‘unclear’ schools spending election claims

Written by Beckie Smith on 4 December 2019 in News

Watchdog claims figures quotes by two main parties could offer inaccurate picture

The UK’s two biggest political parties have included figures that could give an inaccurate picture of schools spending figures in their manifestos, the statistics watchdog has warned.

The UK Statistics Authority said yesterday that the Labour and Conservative pledges for the 12 December election both repeated claims the regulator had commented on previously.

The Labour Party document says that 83% of schools face cuts next year – a claim UKSA addressed in January when it was first used by the National Education Union. The watchdog said it had found “a number of issues with its presentation”: most notably that the calculation was a comparison between 2015-16 and 2021-21, and did not relate specifically to next year.

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The Labour manifesto does not explain this calculation, which the NEU added to its website after discussions with the Office for Statistics Regulation in January. “Without this context, the headline statement is likely to give an unclear impression of future changes in school budgets,” the UKSA said.

The Tory manifesto meanwhile repeats a claim that a Conservative government would provide “an extra £14bn funding for schools”. UKSA said in October that the figure, published in a statement by the Department for Education, “could mislead” if it were presented without an explanation of how it was calculated.

The £14bn increase is set to happen over three years up to 2022-23. The statistic was calculated by adding and rounding up three years of increases and does not account for inflation, UKSA said.

“In October, we therefore emphasised the need for clarity on what the figures represent. The manifesto fails to provide this clarity,” it said.

It added: “The manifesto introduction mentions a time frame when referring to this increase, however when explaining changes in school funding dates or baselines are not given. The manifesto also translates the figure into a per week basis. The basis for the per week calculation is unclear.”

UKSA has made several public statements on schools funding statistics over the last two years. In October 2018 it said it would investigate DfE’s use of schools that included tuition fees to demonstrate its record on schools spending.

And in May, Ed Humpherson, head of the OSR, UKSA’s regulatory arm, told the department to examine “not just whether [ministers’] statements correctly quote the statistics, but also whether, in the context, the use being made of them is liable to mislead”.

His intervention came after a schools minister Nick Gibb told Channel 4 News that the government had “protected school funding in real term terms” since 2010 and that since 2017 had been “giving more money to every local authority for every pupil in every school”, without making it clear that the figures referred specifically to 5 to 16-year-olds.


About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @beckie__smith.

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