FUNDING chiefs have been accused of "spin" after a report into the performance of Scottish colleges glossed over unfavourable data on drop-out rates.

The UK Statistics Authority, which regulates the quality of information from public bodies, said the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) had given greater prominence to positive information about the proportion of students completing courses.

The authority has now written to the SFC highlighting concerns over its college report and calling on it to reduce "bias" in the future to improve the "trustworthiness" of its statistics.

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The SFC report was published in January this year at a time when the sector was under intense scrutiny following a raft of mergers which led to job losses, course cuts and a drastic decline in the overall number of students. Drop-out rates have been a historic concern.

Ministers have already been accused of watering down reports by public bodies – although there is no suggestion the Scottish Government tried to influence the SFC report.

In August, it emerged that Audit Scotland agreed to change a draft report into the state of Scotland’s colleges to make a decline in student numbers appear less dramatic.

Two reports by Naomi Eisenstadt, Nicola Sturgeon’s former poverty adviser, were also changed at the request of the government and officials put pressure on Audit Scotland to tone down a report on the NHS.

The current criticism centres on the SFC's 2015/16 report on the performance of colleges.

In a letter to Martin Smith, the SFC's chief funding and information officer, the authority describes the report as "clear and insightful", but said changes could improve "the trustworthiness and value" of the statistics.

The letter states: "Our main reflection is that positive results appear to be significantly more prominent than negative results.

"The publication includes the use of bold text to draw attention to positive headline figures, more references to completion rates than withdrawal rates and a suggestion that "perhaps the most important measure is the percentage of successfully completing

"While each of these may be legitimate statements, the overall impression could call into question the objectiveness of your statistical operations."

The authority said to ensure the "trustworthiness" of the statistics the SFC should ensure figures were "clearly presented without bias towards a specific policy stance" in future. It further called for the SFC's lead data analysts to have "full editorial control" of publications.

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said all reports should be balanced and transparent.

She said: "The public has a right to be presented with both the positive and negative aspects without any hint of subjective opinion that suits a particular point of view.

"Clearly, in this case, the UK Statistics Authority feels that boundary has been crossed and that is not acceptable."

Iain Gray, education spokesman for Scottish Labour, said it was the latest example of the Scottish Government "putting spin before students".

He said: "We already saw how they watered down an Audit Scotland report to make the statistics look better. Now the funding council has its knuckles rapped for trying to make college statistics look better than they really are.

"This SNP government is fast becoming a byword for spin and lack of transparency. If they put as much effort into actually improving education as they put into trying to improve how their dismal record looks, they would be doing us all a service."

Tavish Scott, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said education statistics should be clear of political spin.

He said: "Scotland’s education funding body is now being asked to improve the trustworthiness of their statistics. Sadly we know that every quango of the Scottish Government is told to spin any publication in the best light possible."

A spokesman for the SFC said the Office for National Statistic set high standards for the presentation of statistical information and they were "proud" to be certified by them.

He added: "We are pleased the ONS found SFC’s college performance indicators report to be clear and insightful. We welcome their reflections and, as the letter states, we are enthusiastic about applying these across all our publications."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We expect all public bodies which produce statistics to observe the code of practice for official statistics set out by the UK Statistics Authority."