It’s coursework deadline time in the Department. So this week I read and suggested corrections on a draft of a student’s report that is due in on Monday. One of my corrections was that the student should cite the source of a graph he had reproduced in one of the report’s figures. He had cited the original paper in the text but the convention in science is that it should also be cited in the caption, so the reader can immediately see where it comes from.
This is standard stuff but it did occur to me that the corrected report would adhere to a standard rather higher than that maintained by Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education. He stated that “Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58 per cent think Sherlock Holmes was real”, but did not quote the source of these statements.
Handily, we have freedom of information acts, so Janet Downs asked the Department for Education for the source. The answers are entertaining. The surveys included ones conducted for UKTV Gold, and Premier Inns. This looks a bit odd. The general secretary of NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers), Russell Hobby, came up with an amusing response: “In a poll that the NAHT hasn’t done or checked, 110 per cent of school leaders said they were alarmed to hear that Mr Gove’s statistics were not based on official sources.” But there is a even bigger problem.
The UKTV survey is here. They did indeed find that 58% of respondents thought Sherlock Holmes was real. But the respondents are “3,000 people”, not just teenagers as Gove stated. Michael Gove appears to be misrepresenting the results of a survey, as well as not quoting his source. I would mark down a student for doing this.