Comprehensive Future’s policy on Freedom of Information requests and data transparency

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request recently obtained by Comprehensive Future shows figures for pupil premium pupils admitted to grammar schools from 2017-2019, you can read a review of insights from this data here. The new numbers appear to contradict figures from a previous FOI request, which has led one Kent blogger to accuse CF of falsifying  data. We refute these allegations and object most strongly to the implication that anyone who is a part of Comprehensive Future would alter or fabricate figures supplied in response to an FOI request.

The original 2017 numbers were described on our website here, and the new information was recently received from the DfE. However, these two FOI requests were asking very different questions. The earlier FOI asked grammar schools how many pupil premium pupils were admitted through their disadvantage priority policy. This FOI involves school census data showing how many pupil premium pupils were educated at each school. We now understand that the question we asked in our first request may have caused confusion to some schools, and also that interpreting the data needed a clearer understanding of the exact information provided. We have been made aware of at least one news source that did not describe the figures clearly, so we drew their attention to this and asked them to correct the article.

We want to make it clear that we always share information and report our findings in good faith. We have learned through our Freedom of Information request that many grammar schools have admission priority policies that simply fail to work, or that admit just 2 or 3 pupils. This seems extraordinary and deserves public attention. We believe a pattern of failure on this scale deserves proper investigation.

It is also worth pointing out that there is no regularly published data detailing disadvantaged pupils access to selective schools. This leaves organisations such as CF, and other interested parties, attempting to follow the patterns of entry with limited information in the public domain. The Department for Education, the Grammar School Heads Association, and selective local authorities such as Kent County Council, talk about their plans to widen access to selective schools, yet they choose not to publically benchmark any percentages. They do not discuss their targets for improvement, they choose not to publish annual statistics, and we don’t know of any selective authorities that regularly check local statistics for disadvantaged pupils access to grammar schools. We would welcome more openness from all the bodies involved in selective school provision.

Comprehensive Future  is fortunate in having James Coombs, an experienced data analyst and statistician, on our steering committee to advise on our use of data. Currently studying for a Master’s in Data Science, James has substantial knowledge of FOI matters, as well as expertise in the interpretation of data. He has been a great help in formulating internal policies and procedures to ensure best practice when collecting and sharing data. The use of data has increased and improved since James joined our team, and he has proved invaluable in helping us understand often very complex data.

We take great pride in our integrity and at all times work as honestly and openly as possible. We ensure our published facts and figures are checked for accuracy and clarity by an appropriate member of our team before publication, and wherever possible, data used by Comprehensive Future is published or available on request. We already make the vast majority of our FOI requests openly via the What Do They Know website and will continue to do so. This approach means that our work is in the public domain for scrutiny, and it also means that it can provide useful evidence for anyone interested in the problems around 11-plus testing and selective education.

2020-07-06T11:32:09+00:00