Monthly Archives: January 2013

If you watched every American professional football team play every snap, analysed its success, compared it to all other plays in that situation, and then weighed it according to the defence it faced, you would reach an important conclusion: the Denver Broncos have the best chance of winning the Super Bowl on February 3.

That is according to, whose popular DVOA rating puts the Broncos as a slight leader (24.3 per cent) over second-favourite New England Patriots (23.6 per cent).

Founded by Aaron Schatz, an ESPN columnist, the site provides an in-depth analysis of every single play of the NFL season along with various ratings based on that analysis.

“For me, personally, I started this because I wanted to make better commentary,” says Mr Schatz. “The bigger gap that needed to be closed was between reality and the nonsense of colour commentators.”

Baseball’s “sabermetrics” movement – popularised by Moneyball (both the book and movie) – led the way increasing the sophistication of the statistics used in sport. It was primarily developed by people outside the baseball establishment to help teams properly value individual players.

In contrast, Football Outsiders does provide some predictive qualities, but the data analysis offers a different utility from the of baseball: to educate and inform football fans about a complicated and sometimes misunderstood sport. Read more

Kate Allen

By Kate Allen. Interactive map by Callum Locke.

The London Underground celebrates its much-publicised 150th birthday this week. The system is the oldest in the world – nearly four decades older than any of the world’s other large metro systems – and has been lauded as a model of public infrastructure investment. But how does it measure up to its younger imitators? Read more

Valentina Romei

Chinese exports grew faster than expected in December, lifting hopes for a prompt recovery from the country’s slowdown. The December reading for exports is certainly good news, but there should be caution in looking at monthly export figures. Read more

Kate Allen

The coalition government – once again in search of welfare bill savings – is considering cutting back on winter fuel payments to pensioners living abroad. Data released by the Department for Work & Pensions under the Freedom of Information Act highlights exactly where those payments are going.

Half of all claimants live in Spain – not known for having a chilly climate. Payments aren’t just going to the Costa del Sol – British pensioners living all over the continent are claiming this benefit. Other popular countries include France, Cyprus and Portugal. Read more

Chris Cook

Last summer, there was an eruption of concern among schools that the GCSE English exam had suddenly been made harder by a change in grade boundaries. Ofqual, the exams regulator whose job it is to keep exams equally easy in all years, certainly intervened: what is not clear is if it got it right, or whether it made it too difficult.

A judge is considering whether the boundary-setting was conducted via a fair process. But we now have some data with which to look at the issue from the National Pupil Database. I have GCSE English (or English language) results and each candidate’s scores at the age of 11 (although not which exam they took, nor their exam board*).

Since the aim of boundary-setting is to keep exams equally difficult, and since Ofqual believes the school system has not improved, we can use these two results together to tell us something: similarly able children at the age of 11 should get roughly the same grade in 2011 and 2012. There are horribly complex ways to do this formally, but I am going for an intuitive method. Read more

Chris Cook

In today’s Times, Greg Hurst writes about concerns that some academy chains might be a bit overstretched and find it difficult to continue growing. It has been pretty well established that the first round of “sponsor” academy takeovers was a success. The chains definitely improved the failing schools that they took over.

But some of the groups mentioned by Greg are not doing that well. To start with, here is a sample of academy chains’ results, using the government’s favourite measure: what proportion of children got Cs or better in English, maths and three other GCSE subjects in 2011? I have only included schools in the measure under their current leadership for three full years or more.

Provider Total Low PA Mid PA High PA
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) 55.8% 28% 74% 95%
Ark Schools 63% 70% 83% 93%
The Bourne Family Trust 82% 88% 75% 100%
E-ACT 40% 28% 78% 100%
Harris Federation 67% 62% 86% 100%
Jack Petchey Foundation 61% 43% 59% 92%
Thomas Telford School 57% 47% 89% 100%
United Learning Trust (ULT) 50% 33% 73% 92%

 Read more

Kate Allen

Britain is increasingly becoming a country of people who are on the move in search of work, data from the 2011 census reveals.

Nearly 189,000 people in England and Wales are living away from home for work-related reasons, the census found. This is the second-largest category of people with second addresses (after students living away from home), and exceeds the 165,095 people who told the census they use a second address for holidays.

The census asked people whether they had a second address for the first time in 2011, so figures for previous decades are not available. However the Office for National Statistics noted that “an increasing number of people in the UK have more than one residence … This situation led to the need for a new question to collect information on second addresses … [to] help local authorities to plan local services.”

The results make it possible to identify areas of the country with the highest proportions of people with work-related second addresses. All but one of these areas are in London (see table 1, below).

A look at recent figures for the number of job vacancies per unemployment benefit claimant shows that these areas have wildly differing levels of job availability (table 2). This suggests that the search for employment opportunities is not the driving factor.

So what is the cause? Read more

Kate Allen

The TUC’s poll on public support for the government’s changes to the benefit system is picking up some media coverage today. The union body’s top line is that those most opposed to benefits are also the most poorly-informed. “Those who know the least oppose them the most”, for example. But there is also some interesting detail that exposes a clear class divide.

On behalf of the TUC, YouGov asked 1,805 people a series of detailed questions about the nature and scale of welfare benefits, and presented the data by age, class, region and voting intention. The findings given here are an edited version of those answers, to highlight the key class differences.

TUC welfare benefits poll December 2012

(click here to see the chart). Read more

Kate Allen

2012 was the UK’s second-wettest year on record, according to full-year data from the Met Office. Four of the five wettest years on record have happened since 2000, and “extreme rainfall events” in particular are becoming more common, the agency’s meteorologists say.

This isn’t just a British trend. Natural disasters are on the rise worldwide – and the increase is being driven by water-related events. Read more

Chris Cook

Students From Liverpool's John Moore University Receive Their Degrees Today’s UCAS statistics are pretty grim: the number of people applying to UK universities is falling, and the drops are big. A 6 per cent fall in applications since last year is a big deal.

At the same stage last year, 321,908 people had applied for places. This year, it is 303,861. At the 2011 peak, it was 344,064. These are preliminary results: lots of students are still weighing their options and will apply in the coming months, but it is a big fall. Read more

Valentina Romei

Labour productivity continues to fall in the UK, today’s latest ONS release shows.

Output per hour dropped by 0.2% in Quarter 3, 2012, compared to the previous quarter. This means a fall of over 2% compared to the same period last year and over 3% compared to the pre-crisis period. This is a particularly striking drop considering than in the five years before the financial crisis labour productivity rose by over 12%.

The reasons for this remain rather a puzzle. And a look at other European countries confirms that the UK is unusual. But it’s not unique. Most core European countries had a drop in productivity levels compared to those in the US. But their performance varied considerably during the last few years of economic crisis, as this chart highlights … Read more

Kate Allen

Someone who was born on the last day of 1899 would now be 113 years old. There are just a handful of people of this age left on Earth. They are the last remaining survivors of the 19th century; what in Britain was the Victorian Age and internationally historian Eric Hobsbawm dubbed the “age of Empire”.

Only 16 of these links to history now remain alive*, according to the latest data by specialist research team the Gerontology Research Group.

The vast majority of these super-centenarians live in Japan and the US. Four of the world’s five oldest people live in Japan. Japan is also the stand-out leader in population density terms, with 12.8m citizens per 19th century survivor, compared to the US’s 28.4m. Read more

Chris Cook

At the moment, the Department for Education is considering changes to the league tables and the exam system. This seems an opportune moment to make a simple point about qualification-awarding and accountability: English school examinations are subject to measurement error in a really big way.

Here is a simple thought experiment to flesh it out. Imagine a class of 100 students. Let us specify that each one has a “true” ability that means that one pupil should get one point, one pupil should get two, one should get three and so on – up to 100 marks. Now, let’s award this class one of 10 grades: 90+ gets you an A, 80+ a B and so on.

Let us assume that the tests are perfect. If that were the case, you would get ten individuals in each grade. Easy enough. But what happens if we start introducing errors into the test? We can do that with a set of exotically named (but very simple) “Monte Carlo” estimates, which I calculated using this simple spreadsheetRead more

By Paul Hodges

Chart 1: For the first time in history, most westerners now live beyond 55 years

January 1 2013 marks the 55th birthday of Mr and Ms Average Baby Boomer. When they were born in 1958 in the wealthy western world, nobody imagined they would grow up as part of the largest, wealthiest and most long-lived generation in history. Similarly today, few realise that their imminent entry into the 55-plus generation will have such profound consequences for the economy, for politics, for companies and all of us individually. Read more