Statistics watchdog to investigate DfE's 'disingenuous' use of spending stats

Teachers’ groups say the DfE's claim the UK is among the world's top spenders on education disguises funding cuts

Photo: PA

The UK Statistics Authority has launched an investigation into the Department for Education after it was accused of misrepresenting its spending on education by quoting figures that include university tuition fees.

The Department for Education has said the UK is one of the world’s top spenders on education. A blog published on its website on 27 September said: “The OECD has recently confirmed that the UK is the third highest spender on education in the world.”

Schools minister Nick Gibb used the same figure during an interview with BBC Radio 4 to defend the government’s spending record on schools, after headteachers marched to Downing Street last week to protest funding cuts.


But the statistics watchdog confirmed this week that it is looking into the department’s use of the claim. Its investigation comes after the OECD measure – which shows spending as a proportion of GDP in 2015 – was found to include not only public spending on schools, but tuition fees for private schools and universities, Schools Week reported.

The claim has been branded “disingenuous” by teachers’ groups, who have said the use of the OECD figure in this context is misleading as it disguises cuts to school funding.

UKSA is also investigating claims by Damian Hinds, the education secretary, at Conservative Party conference this week that 1.9 million more children are in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted now than in 2010.

The department had been urged to drop the statistic by the Education Policy Institute think tank in July, as it does not take into account population growth, changes to Ofsted inspections or changes to school governance as a result of academisation.

“The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for Statistics Regulation are investigating the concerns raised, and will publish their findings shortly,” the watchdog said in a statement.

This is not the first time the DfE has come under scrutiny by UKSA. In November 2016, it was reprimanded by the watchdog over a “misleading” tweet that claimed grammar schools were more effective than comprehensives in helping white working class boys get into university as it was not based on comparable data.

And the following year, the Office for Statistics Regulation censured the department for its unclear use of free schools statistics, and for delaying the publication of promised data about the cost of transferring schools between academy trusts.

A DfE spokesperson said the statistic published on its website is “the most informative OECD statistic on school funding”.

“It is true to say that the OECD has ranked the UK as the third highest for education funding – this includes tertiary and private education for every country,” they said.

“This is one of several statistics in the OECD report that demonstrate the UK is among the highest spenders on education at primary and secondary level, whether you look at spend as a share of GDP, spend as a share of government spending or spend per pupil.”

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