Data check confirms Council's Education brochure contained misleading information

Among the various items in our April 2013 update for supporters, which focussed primarily on RISC's core issues of faith-based discrimination in admissions and the impact of the new Catholic school, we included this item:

"The Council spent £7400 sending every household in the borough a glossy brochure promoting the Council's education achievements, all under the imprint of the Director of Education, Nick Whitfield. Not surprisingly, this prompted a rather negative reaction, notably from the LibDem opposition on the Council, who also highlighted some dubious handling of the data, as reported in the Richmond & Twickenham Times. The response from Cllr Geoffrey Samuel, the Deputy Leader of the Council, was "There is no political content in this factual publication. To suggest otherwise is a disreputable slur when it is signed by the director of education, a public servant of impeccable integrity". It looks like we're already in the run-up to the May 2014 Council elections.

There is indeed plenty to celebrate in our local education system, some of it to the Council’s credit. But there's also a negative side. In particular the brochure doesn’t mention the risk the Council took with secondary places in coming years when it decided to give the Clifden Road site to St. Richard Reynolds' Catholic College."

When we sent a courtesy copy of the newsletter to the Council, they acknowledged that our points were noted, but jumped on this one particular section, accusing us of endorsing LibDem propaganda…as credible” by referring to "dubious handling of the data".

That prompted us to take a look at the underlying data, and you can see our analysis below. The conclusion is clear: the Council’s brochure does contain information that appears to be intentionally misleading.

It seems like a pointless manipulation as the differences are small and the brochure could easily have been written in an accurate way without detracting from the overall positive message.

The actual GCSE numbers are not an issue for RISC. By and large, our local schools do a great job, and we were surprised to see some of the criticisms levelled against them by opposition Councillors. But for the Council to put out deliberately misleading educational data is an issue for RISC.  One of our core aims is to hold the council to account over its school place planning, and scrutinising the integrity of education data is part of that process.

We will continue to highlight any other examples we come across, from whichever side of the political divide.


Our analysis:

Here are links to the two relevant documents:


1.       The brochure says "GCSE results for 2012 show that the number of pupils achieving five or more A* to C grades, including English and mathematics, is continuing on the upward trend that we have seen over the past five years." According to the DfE data, the figure for 2011 was 63.2% and for 2012 it was 62.6%. That is a minor decrease, not a “continuing upward trend”.


2.       The table in the brochure rounds the % to the nearest whole number. There’s nothing wrong with that. But these are the actual numbers, and in brackets, the rounded numbers given in the brochure: Richmond: 2011 - 63.2% (63%), 2012 - 62.6% (63%). National: 2011 – 58.2% (59%), 2012 – 58.8% (59%).
Crucially, 58.2% rounds to 58%, not 59%. The effect of the rounding is to suggest that both Richmond and the National numbers have remained constant across the two years (itself contradicting the “upward trend” claim), when in reality the National numbers have gone up and the Richmond numbers have gone down, albeit by very small amounts.


This is precisely the point made by the Lib Dems in the RTT report: