In 1999 Stephen Gorard published an article in this journal in which he provided a trenchant critique of what he termed the `politician's error' in analysing differences in educational attainment. The main consequence of this error, he argued, has been the production of misleading findings in relation to trends in educational performance over time that have, in turn, led to misguided and potentially damaging policy interventions. By using gender differences in educational attainment as a case study, this article begins by showing how Gorard's notion of the politician's error has been largely embraced and adopted uncritically by those within the field. However, the article goes on to demonstrate how Gorard's own preferred way of analysing such differences – by calculating and comparing proportionate changes in performance between groups – is also inherently problematic and can lead to the production of equally misleading findings. The article will argue that there is a need to develop a more reliable and valid way of measuring trends in educational performance over time and will show that one of the simplest ways of doing this is to make use of existing, and widely accepted, measures of effect size.