“Lies, damned lies and statistics”? Histrionics over history at the DfE

7 Nov

The Daily Telegraph reports that a survey by The Historical Association finds that almost four-in-10 secondary schools prevent pupils in lower sets from pursuing GCSEs in history”:

“Rising numbers of teachers are barring less intelligent pupils from taking GCSEs in history amid fears they will damage the school’s league table ranking, according to research. Children in lower sets are being steered away from the subject between the age of 14 and 16 to prevent them dragging down the overall GCSE pass rate, it was claimed.

“A survey by The Historical Association found that the number of schools barring some pupils from history had increased by around a quarter in the last 12 months and more than doubled over a two-year period.

“It follows the introduction of the English Baccalaureate – a new league table measure that marks out pupils who gain good GCSE grades in a range of academic disciplines including history or geography.

“But the Department for Education dismissed the findings as ‘simply not true’, insisting that entries for GCSE history were actually at a 16-year high in 2013, with pupil numbers increasing by 17 per cent in 12 months. A spokesman said: ‘The actual figures, based on all secondary schools, show the number of entries to history GCSE this year was the highest since at least 1997. This is in part thanks to the EBacc, which has helped schools focus on core subjects including history.’”

The Historical Association commented that: 

“38% of respondents reported students are steered away from taking history GCSE compared with 31% in 2012 (and 16% in 2011). Particularly worrying is the way in which the E-Bacc measure can make students’ chances of being allowed to take history dependent on their success in other E-Bacc subjects, such as Foreign Languages or Science. There is certainly no sense of national entitlement that any student who wishes to continue with the subject beyond the age of 14 has the right to do so.”

There are a number of issues of concern here. One is the distorting effect of league tables and the EBacc , both on the subject choices that pupils make, as we are seeing here with history, and on the future survival of subjects like RE. 

Changes to GCSEs will have a similar effect on English literature, depriving “many students of any entitlement to study literature beyond Key Stage 3 (since the reformed GCSE English language focuses on language skills rather than literature)”

Also alarming is the DfE’s aggressive use of spin, with a spokesperson dismissing the findings as ‘simply not true’. So, is the DfE saying that the Historical Association made up the survey or that those who took part were lying?  Entries for GCSE history might have increased overall, but that doesn’t disprove the HA’s findings that certain groups of pupils were being steered away from the subject. 

This seems to be the latest example of  the DfE’s contempt for any individual or organisation – the “wrong-headed”, “misguided” “trots” and enemies – with the temerity to hold a different opinion to that of its ministers or to present evidence that contradicts its totalitarian view

Let us hope that future students of history and media will study this Machiavellian manipulation of “lies, damned lies and statistics”. It is unclear who first used the phrase but, whoever it was, he had both insight and prescience. 

Do let us know your thoughts… 

Tag: History

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One Response to ““Lies, damned lies and statistics”? Histrionics over history at the DfE”

  1. Richard Fraser 13. Nov, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Daily Telegraph: “Dozens of schools failing to enter pupils for GCSE history: [www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10440951/Dozens-of-schools-failing-to-enter-pupils-for-GCSE-history.html]

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