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Cambridge don blasts Suffolk's use of school statistics

Feb 2

Suffolk County Council's "evidence" to support its plan to scrap the county's Middle Schools is based on "selective quotation" of statistics which "amounts to distortion of the facts," a leading Cambridge academic has charged.

David Bainbridge, Admissions Tutor at St Catharine's College and a parent in the Suffolk system, has written to Council leaders to voice "serious concerns" about the statistics used. " The report draws conclusions that simply are not supported by the facts," he says. Bainbridge is a veterinary scientists by training and more than familiar with statistical methods.

"I am alarmed that the data was claimed to provide a cogent argument for change. The report frequently cites small differences between comparison groups which it then describes as ‘significant’. This is extremely lax use of this term, which has a very specific meaning in statistics," he explains. "I must stress that this is not an abstruse, academic point – it is one on which much of our management of our modern way of life is based."

"The GCSE data are ... frighteningly misrepresented," Bainbridge continues. "The data show that:

These data strongly suggest that there is no measurable difference in GCSE attainment (the ‘benchmark’ for the outside world) between school types. Yet it is used to claim that there is a difference," he writes.

Bainbridge complains that the Council did not outsource the analysis of its data to independent statistician - "a fundamental problem."

"The skewed mode of presentation .. suggests a bias in the way the entire exercise was conducted. I am alarmed that others have supported the methods used," he says,

"What is proposed is an extremely disruptive change, and I do not believe that there is academic evidence to support it. As they stand, the proposals are alarmingly vague in both detailed implementation, risks and costs – to an extent that would not be tolerated in most other organisations. Perhaps the most important ‘intangible’ that cannot be factored in is the inability of Suffolk schools to retain and recruit staff over the proposed period of transition – as one of the external referees points out, the importance of the quality of recruited teachers far outweighs any other aspect of school organisation."

You can read Dr Bainbridge's full letter here.