Celebrating success or manipulating data?

The Department for Education’s public relations machine seems very keen on London Academy of Excellence (LAE), the 16-19 free school established in Newham 2 years ago  by a group of fee-charging schools. They routinely re-tweet complimentary media coverage of LAE and this was how I came across a piece from this Wednesday’s Times newspaper which suggested that the 100 LAE students who had Russell group offers this year represent a 3-fold increase in Newham students progressing to these universities.

This interpretation of the facts requires several levels of twisting the data and avoiding comparing like with like. I have written to the Times about this and I hope the letter is published. Just in case it isn’t, I attach it here in the interests of accuracy.

I am very much in favour of celebrating the achievements of all young people, wherever they study and LAE can be rightly pleased with the 100 students who have Russell group offers, just as we were pleased with the 137 NewVIc students who had Russell group offers. However, celebrating their success should not require selective misrepresentation.

I am now looking forward to the balancing article headed: “Comprehensive sixth form college offered 137 places at top universities” and I welcome calls from journalists who might write it.

Letter to the Times (14th March)

Sir,

You recently ran a story about the 100 students from London Academy of Excellence who are holding offers from Russell Group universities (“New academy offered 100 places at top universities” – March 12th).

The claim was made that this represents a 3-fold increase in the number progressing to these universities from Newham institutions. This claim was based on data from 2010 when the Russell group was a smaller group and, as pointed out at the end of the piece, offers are not the same as places.

The equivalent data for Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) which is Newham’s largest sixth form is that 137 of our students had offers from Russell group universities in 2013 and in the event 60 students progressed to these universities – out of a total of 767 progressing to university overall.

This year so far, 60 NewVIc students are holding Russell Group offers, with a further 79 awaiting decisions.

When I last checked, 137 is more than 100 so I am eagerly anticipating  the article about “success of comprehensive sixth form college in getting disadvantaged students to top universities”

LAE and their students are of course to be congratulated on their achievements but it is not an excuse for misrepresentation or exaggeration.

Sincerely,

Eddie Playfair

Principal – Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc)

About Eddie Playfair

Principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) East London. Blogging about education, politics and culture in a personal capacity. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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