I love this example from New Economist:
The Saturday Telegraph front page carries a rather alarmist lead story by Graeme Paton and Toby Helm: Middle classes abandon state schools Here are the first two paragraphs:
A growing proportion of middle-class parents are giving up on state education after 10 years of Labour rule by paying to educate their children in the independent sector, official figures have disclosed.
The scale of the exodus is shown for the first time in statistics indicating that many families outside the traditional fee-paying heartland of the South East are shunning comprehensives in favour of private schools.
So just how fast is this “exodus” from public schools?
Figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families showed that on average, 7.1 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds were taught in independent schools in 2004. But by this year the proportion had risen to 7.3 per cent – a total of 232,620 pupils.
There was also a rise in the number of primary-school age children in private education over the three-year period, from 5.5 per cent to 5.6 per cent – a total of 199,030 pupils.
Yep, that’s an increase of just 0.2 or 0.1 percentage points over three years. So for 11-15 year olds that’s around a 1 percentage point increase in private school’s share every 15 years, and for primary-school aged every 30 years.
At that pace it would take 109 years for private school’s share of high school students to double (to 14.6% by 2116), and 167 years for the primary-school age share to double (to 11.2% by 2174). Even Methuselah would not have considered that an “exodus”.
The most innumerate piece of UK journalism I’ve read for quite some time.
Because a relatively high percentage of the professional class in London, where media is concentrated, go private, a lot of UK papers assume that everyone abandons the state sector in education (London private schools capture about twice the percentage of students as nationally – a small minority still). When I lived in London, my veins would pop out when I read this sort of stuff. Now – true confession – my children go to a private school which is proving wonderful. It does leave me with some residual guilt.