Wednesday 11 December 2013

The BBC v free schools

Leading free school advocate and Telegraph blogger Toby Young is not happy with the BBC:
The BBC's anti-free schools bias is becoming laughable
The National Audit Office's report on free schools is generally favourable, though you wouldn't know it if you relied on this article on the BBC's website. 
Toby notes all the positives in the NAO's report and then argues that the BBC has opted to spin them into negatives. 

He specifically accuses BBC online education correspondent Hannah Richardson (the article's author) of having written a "shockingly misleading article" and accuses her of "Left-wing bias". (I've been reading Hannah's articles for several years and, yes, she does seem to have a strong Left-wing bias - even by the standards of a BBC reporter.)

To add a little more to Toby's analysis, I'd add this.

Just compare the BBC's headline about this NAO report:
Free schools budget trebled to £1.5bn, report shows
with that of the Times about the very same report:
Free schools ‘are good value’
As they say at primary school, "spot the difference".

Continuing in the same vein, now compare the opening paragraphs of Hannah Richardson's BBC piece
The government's flagship free school programme will cost at least three times the sum originally allocated, the public spending watchdog has found.
The National Audit Office said the scheme allowing groups to set up state-funded schools would cost £1.5bn - the original Treasury grant was £450m.
The NAO said the programme prioritised speed over cost and schools were not always where places were most needed.
The government insisted [there's that "insisted" again!] its free schools offered value for money.
with those written by Greg Hurst of the Times:
Michael Gove’s flagship free schools policy has received a boost after the Government’s spending watchdog said it appeared to deliver value for money.
Free schools cost on average £6.6 million each to open, which was about 45 per cent lower than previous construction costs of new schools, the National Audit Office said.
But it said that costs were creeping upwards as more free schools opened and called on the Department for Education to look at why some cost much more than others.
Free schools are new state-funded schools that are independent of local councils. In the past three years the Government has opened 174, which at full capacity would have 82,000 places, with another 105 schools due to open next year.
They could hardly be more different, could they?

Two key differences stand out: (1) The BBC's angle is negative while that of the Times is positive and (2) the BBC's opening paragraphs are wholly negative while those of the Times offer a measure of balance between positive and negative (i.e. they are more impartial than the BBC!) 

As angles go, the differences between the respective takes of the BBC and the Times are acute, certainly but is the BBC being obtuse here? Is either side right, and whose reaction is a reflex action, Toby's or Hannah's? 

Well, Googling around shows the right-leaning media in general opting for positive headlines. The Telegraph, for instance, has Free school boost for areas in need. The Spectator's What the National Audit Office really said about free schools also targets the the BBC's negative coverage.

The left-leaning media, in contrast, opts for negative headlines - such as the Independent's Too far, too fast: Free schools are costing £1.1bn – twice as much as planned, the New Statesman's How free schools are still failing to address the places crisis and the Guardian's Cost of establishing a free school doubles to £6.6m, auditors find

The BBC thus finds itself (surprise, surprise!) sharing the Left's angle on the NAO report.

The key to being sure about who's spinning here and who's being straight is obviously to read the (lengthy) NAO report and form your own judgement.

As far as I'm concerned though, that's not going to happen. So I'm stuck with an issue of lefty spin v righty spin, and another case of 'Who knows!' (You, however, may be made of sterner stuff!)


  1. Yes, 'classic' BBC bias this; it has been on the Spectator and elsewhere too much the same as Toby's article: it would need a convoluted and twisted explanation equal to that of the disgraceful BBC report to explain away such obvious bias and intent to mislead the reader.

  2. Noted on "The World At One" that the impressive Graham Brady was forced to share the issue with -guess who?...if you didn`t guess Fiona Campbell-Millar, I`d be surprised!
    Well worth a check on how and when the BBC allow the sole spokesperson(Labour) and when it just HAS to put up the diabolical advocate to gainsay, reduce, deflect and skewer a perfectly simple point of Wilshaws.
    In short, aimless controversies and more moolah for Campbells bagpipe
    Of course THEIR kids educations will be as good as ours will be crap...the Toynbee/Falconer/Harman/Blair/Abbott/Williams/ defence of Labour hypocrites.
    Wasn`t Harold Wilson the only Labour leader to give his kids a typical education in recent times( and probably Callaghan, who turns out to be the last Labour Leader worth a jot!)


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