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Chasing Up Another Fake Statistic About Exclusions

March 30, 2022

The Guardian frequently prints false information about suspensions and exclusions from school. I’ve just found an example from earlier this month. In this article they claimed the following:

74% of girls in youth custody have previously been permanently excluded from school compared with 63% of boys.

This struck me as unlikely, as there has been very recent research, from the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice, on the link between exclusions and offending . That showed that for roughly 5000 young people who received a custodial sentence before the age of 18, the majority had never been permanently excluded, although most had been suspended at some point.

This is broadly consistent with other sources. For instance, FFT Education Datalab, found fewer than 20% of 11000 young people who had been in custody between 16 and 18 had been permanently excluded. I’m not aware of any credible source that gives a higher figure, although because suspensions were for many years called “Fixed Term Exclusions” there are sources (eg. this) that give a figure for “exclusions” that almost certainly includes suspensions and is, therefore, much higher.

So where did the Guardian’s figure come from? As with so much bad information in the media on this issue, it comes from a report by campaigning organisations. This one was from a report by Agenda and Alliance for Youth Justice. (The aptly named, charity Agenda previously featured in another blog post I wrote about false claims about exclusions.) In their report they claim:

74% of girls in youth custody have previously been permanently excluded from school compared to 63% of boys.

The source they give for this is a report on Education in Youth Custody from 2016, published by The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). This report states that:

Around 90% of children in custody had been excluded from school at any one time before entering custody and 63% of boys had been permanently excluded (74% for girls).

This gives two sources, which is a bit of a warning if one is using statistics to make comparisons. The first is an article from British Journal of Community Justice from 2015. Researchers distributed questionnaires to just 85 young people in YOIs and got 47 responses (not all complete) and found that:

Of 45 respondents, nine out of 10 (89%, 40) had been excluded from education, 63% of which were permanent exclusions.

The POST research appears to have considered a survey of 45 to be a reliable data point. Also, the writers of that research appear to have missed that it is 63% of 89% (about 56%) not 63% who have been permanently excluded. The second source is this 2012 report from HM Inspectorate of prisons. This included a survey of around a thousand inmates in YOIs. This included the following.

…Seventy-four per cent (n=19) of young women reported having been excluded from school at some point…

That “n=19” refers to the number of responses from young women to the question about exclusions. Only 25 young women were surveyed, so presumably 6 did not answer this question, and 5 said they hadn’t been excluded. The use of the phrase “at some point” indicates this refers to suspensions (then called “Fixed Term Exclusions”), as does the fact that elsewhere it states that:

The majority (88%) of young men said that they had been excluded from school at some point…

So, it would appear that POST’s statistics include multiple errors; ludicrously tiny sample sizes; surveys not completed by all recipients, and it ignored a data point that clearly contradicted one of the claims being made. POST’s parliamentary website states:

The core objective of POST is to supply trusted and impartial analysis to the UK Parliament.

To do this, our advisers are in constant contact with experts from academia, industry, government, the third sector and beyond. Experts help us scan the horizon, identify literature, contextualise research evidence, and peer review our work.

Not very impressive. Also, it’s not impressive that their obviously false statistics were repeated by two further sources. All I can say is: Never believe any claim about exclusions that appears in the media or comes from a charity or campaign group. They are frequently incorrect.

One comment

  1. Never believe anything in The Guardian, either, particularly when it’s about education.



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