Resolution Statement: Complaint 04010-15 Chumleigh Schools Trust v North Devon Journal
Summary of complaint
1. Chumleigh Schools Trust complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the North Devon Journal had published an article, headlined “Worst and best schools in North Devon compiled by website – do you agree?”, on 05 June 2015, which raised a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The article reported that a third-party website had ranked schools in North Devon according to exam performance, Ofsted reports and other official data. The article went on to provide lists of the top five and bottom five secondary and primary schools in North Devon and Torridge on the basis of the website’s rankings. The article said that the website in question “explains that a school may have zero stars if it does not publish ‘sufficient data to meet the criteria of our School guide star rating’”. It also asked whether readers agreed with the rankings, and invited their comments.
3. The complainant said that the majority of schools were unrated, and were listed as having “no stars”. Those schools were still included in the third party website’s lists, but were not ranked in any particular order. While the complainant noted that the newspaper article might have been written to highlight the inadequacies of the third party website, he said that it nevertheless gave the impression that the website had ranked all the schools in the region. In fact, the majority of schools were given a random position on the list. Reporting that Chumleigh Community College was one of the “bottom five secondary schools” in the region, and that East Worlington Primary School was one of the “bottom five primary schools”, was likely to be taken at face value, and was therefore misleading.
4. The newspaper said that the article made clear that it was reporting on a third party website, and asked readers for their comments on the rankings. It said that the article also made clear that some of the schools were not given ratings if they did not publish sufficient data to meet the criteria. The newspaper removed the story from its website as a gesture of goodwill, but denied that the article was inaccurate.
5. The newspaper said it was planning on following up the original article by reporting responses from the schools mentioned. It published a further article, which referred to the article under complaint, and said that the newspaper had received feedback from parents and representatives of local schools. It reported that the third-party website was “working to improve”. It also reported that an individual from website had commented: “The results listings currently list the…schools nearest to the search term in order of star rating followed by those without star ratings. We are aware that this is not clear from the wording and as a result it appears that those without stars are being ranked below those with. This is not the case”. The follow-up article also stated that “The Journal would like to apologise to any schools who feel they were unfairly portrayed”.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore instigated an investigation into the matter.
8. The complainant said that it would resolve its complaint on the basis of a private letter of apology to the Chumleigh Schools Trust, together with an assurance that the newspaper would take care over the accuracy of any story or data it used when reporting on Devon’s Schools.
9. The newspaper said it was happy to write a letter to the Trust in the terms the complainant had requested.
10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 08/06/2015
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/07/2015Back to ruling listing