The Importance of Being Accurate

What’s been said?

Political journalist Lucy Ashton, daughter of former Labour MP Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw 1968-2001) has written an article for The Star (published 17 July 2018), a local Sheffield paper, reporting on the state of EHE in the city. And it’s yet another example of shoddy writing from a journalist who hasn’t checked the facts, or a journalist who doesn’t understand the situation – it may be the latter since, according to her LinkedIn profile posted on Google, Ms Ashton lives in Malawi.

The article is the usual rhetoric about rising numbers of EHE children in the city, currently standing at 513. There has been an alleged 77 per cent rise in this figure over the last five years – officers say there is no apparent reason for this, which is odd, given that the article then goes on to offer multiple reasons why parents withdraw their children from school. It shouldn’t take any self-respecting journalist long to discover that the apparent rise in recorded figures is substantially due to changes in the law on reporting destination when a pupil leaves a school.

But the most staggering claim from Ms Ashton is that ‘during the last academic year, only half of the children were receiving a suitable education’.  She provides no evidence for this, or make any attempt to define ‘suitable’, simply leaving the outrageous statement hanging in the air. But then, why bother with the facts if your intention is to emote rather than inform?

Why does it matter?

This kind of article matters, because it is written by someone who went to school. Clearly, that school education didn’t include analysis of evidence; truth; evaluation of facts; bias and the need to include contrasting points of view. So what value can one place on the education she received?

Her education also clearly failed to provide her with any ability to see the contradictions contained in her own article. If, as Ms Buchanan explains, parents aren’t obliged to meet with her or provide any evidence of work (and many don’t) how can she possibly know that 256 EHE children in Sheffield are not receiving a suitable education?

And on the matter of ‘suitable’ education, figures show (according to a 2016 report in The Star) that more than a third of secondary schools in Sheffield and nearly 25 percent of primary schools are inadequate or require improvement. That figure is slightly distorted by the fact that some schools in the city hadn’t been inspected for over 10 years when the article was written. So with evidence of thousands of children in the city languishing in failing schools, why is Ms Ashton making an unevidenced fuss about 256 home educated children? One could reasonably suspect a political agenda.

What can I do?

Venetta Buchanan is Sheffield’s advisory teacher for Elective Home Education. Her Nov. 2017 report provided Ashton’s headline, though Buchanan did not repeat this in a recent report to a meeting in March this year. You might like to contact her to ask for clarification of her statement concerning half of home educated children receiving a suitable education. Does this mean half of the total number, in which case how did she derive her evidence when so many parents refused to meet with her? You can contact her by phone on 0114 203 7141 or by email at venetta.buchanan@sheffield.gov.uk

You could also contact Ms Ashton directly at lucy.ashton@jpress.co.uk and challenge the shoddy journalism. Point out that Buchanan’s report actually states, “During the last academic year, just over 50% of children were receiving a suitable education”. Request the researched evidence on which the article was based. If you get an answer, challenge every point that is based on hearsay and anecdote.