Lies, damned lies etc.

The BBC yesterday reported the Tories’ claim that the number of children in schools of more than 2,000 pupils has trebled in the last ten years, the Tories linking such schools to discipline problems.

It’s certainly a headline grabber, but the truth behind it is unlikely to be as significant as the headline suggests.

Having an arbitrary cut-off of 2,000 pupils defining a large school is dangerously powerful. There were 12,650 such pupils in 1997, rising to 47,540 in 2007. Such an increase could be explained by 18 schools each increasing their register by two pupils, from 1,999 to 2,001 pupils. It’s doubtful that this extreme scenario is indeed what has happened, but the reality is also unlikely to be as momentous as the highlighted statistics suggest.

Comments

2 Responses to “Lies, damned lies etc.”

  1. Nick Robinson on January 7th, 2008 06:27

    Dan,
    My change of career has resulted in a drastic reduction in my ability to do numbers (or perhaps a dramatic increase in my awareness of my own numeracy!) and I’m interested in this post.
    Will you pick apart your calculations a bit for me please? How does 18 schools increasing their register by 2 explain the rise to 47,540 such pupils?
    Cheers,
    Nick
    No, hold on, I might have it – it’s 18 additional schools now each having more than 2,000 pupils right? 18 x 2,000 = 36,000.
    Freakonomics-worthy!

  2. Dan on January 7th, 2008 06:34

    You got it, Nick. It’s not immediately obvious, but once you get it, it uncovers the dubious nature of the headline grabber.

    Glad you got there…

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