Data Points

Our curated feed of data stories in the FT and elsewhere

The UK’s information technology sector could be about 40 per cent bigger than previously though, with at least 70,000 more ICT companies in operation.

That’s according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research who have come up with a pretty novel way of measuring the size of Britain’s tech sector using one of the industry’s most hyped concepts ‘big data’.

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Chris Cook

Charles, William, George. If all goes to plan, and God does, indeed, save our Kings, Britons now know the names of the men who will be head of state for the 21st century. But Ben Goldacre, the science writer, asked a good (if morbid) question: what chance does any one of us have of being alive when George finally takes to the throne? Thanks to Matthew Fletcher, a senior consultant at Towers Watson, a global actuarial firm, we now know.

You can get your precise numbers here, and read on to see how your odds were calculated

First, here is the likely probability distribution about when he will get under the crown. This makes a few assumptions that the royals age much like the rest of us, will not abdicate and that culottes-free Britons won’t storm Sandringham any time soon.

Again, assuming no chopping and changing, he also worked out the probability

  • that George follows on straight from Elizabeth – 0.1 per cent
  • that George takes over from Charles – 4.7 per cent
  • that George follows William – 88.6 per cent
  • that George is never king – 6.6 per cent

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George Osborne’s attempt to flatter the official headline measures of the public finances came unstuck on Wednesday after the UK Statistics Authority reprimanded the Office for National Statistics for treating the Treasury’s raid on the Bank of England as equivalent to tax revenues.

Upholding a complaint from the Financial Times about the ONS decision, the statistics watchdog called for a review of the headline measures of public borrowing and debt.

The decision will stop the chancellor from claiming borrowing is lower merely because funds have been moved from one part of the public sector to another, and demonstrates that the UKSA is willing to criticise the statistical work of its own government department as well as ministers.In November, Mr Osborne announced he would repatriate to the Treasury the funds building up under the quantitative easing scheme in the Bank of England arising from interest payments on the debt owned by the bank.

The Treasury hoped this raid would improve headline figures of government borrowing, helping Mr Osborne to meet his fiscal rules and say borrowing was falling, despite the weak economy.

Initially the ONS agreed with the Treasury’s arguments, but this has now been overturned by the UKSA, which said the counter arguments made by the FT were “more persuasive”.

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Chris Cook

The NSA data-collection story has prompted a lot of reporting about “metadata” – information about communications between individuals. As the FT has reported:

The practice was revealed by The Guardian, which published an order – signed by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – instructing Verizon to give the NSA the metadata, or information logs, for the calls “on an ongoing daily basis”.

Call logs really matter. Even if you cannot hear the calls, metadata – knowing who called whom – is massively important. It allows you to build a picture of who knows whom and how well. This sounds trivially true, but computing power means it’s extremely easy to pull out this data in real time and in great detail. And if you spot a suspicious group, you can then get another warrant to listen in on their conversations.

Here is an example: I’ve put my Facebook account details into a piece of analytical software – and, 10 seconds later, this is my life:

This is a map of who my friends are based solely on knowing which of them is friends of the others. Nothing else. Just Facebook friend lists. It has worked out that the big clusters are groups of people who know one another – so probably have something in common. The ones at the centre of the packs know everyone else around them, and those at the edge are more peripheral.

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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

Last week, I went to Wolverhampton where I spoke at a local debate, organised by the university and Pat McFadden, the local MP, about the local authority’s school. I was the warm-up act for Lord Adonis, former schools minister, setting the scene about the city’s education system before his talk on lessons on school improvement.

It was interesting event – and the city is clearly considering its future and the role of education within it. There is – judging by my inbox – serious and deep interest in improving schools in the city. One of the things I sought to do was set out Wolvo’s position in relation to the rest of the country – and what statistics about the city tell us.

Here is my presentation: Read more

Chris Cook

Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, has written up a paper on Swedish school reforms, which you can download here. I thought it was worth using to quickly flag up two important statistical public policy points.

The context to this is that Sweden has, since the early 1990s, allowed private (including for-profit) institutions to enter the school system – and parallels are often drawn between it and the ongoing reforms of England’s school system. This paper, as Fraser rightly says, comes to the view that increasing the volume of private schools in an area is associated with improved results. Mikael Lindahl and Anders Böhlmark say:

If we transform our estimates to standard deviation (S.D.) units (using the variation across all individuals) we find that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of independent-school students has resulted in 0.07 S.D. higher average educational achievement at the end of compulsory school.

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Chris Cook

One of my grand theories is that public policy types are generally bad at geography. Or, at the least, they underestimate the importance of where you live. Here, below the fold, are two zoomable maps, coloured by the school performance of local state-educated children. The map is based on where the children live, not where they go to school. To explain:

  • The colouring is red for weaker results and blue for better ones. Darker colours mean more extreme results. If you want detail on an area, click on any one of the blobs and it should give you a run down of local statistics, where possible.
  • Both maps are coloured according to FT score results: that is the sum of state-educated pupils’ scores in English, maths and their top three other subjects.    Other data, including official measures, are in the boxes that pop up.
  • On the first map, the geographical blobs are smaller than on previous maps: the lowest super output area in high density places, and the middle-layer output area in zones of low density (this way, we can show maximum detail).
  • That map can be quite frazzling. The second might be more to some people’s tastes. This is exactly the same sort data, just arranged by parliamentary constituency. Since they are bigger lumps, we can include more detailed data.
  • For the constituencies, I have given a barrage of results for all local children in state schools. But also the same just for FSM-eligible children, and for children dubbed “middle attainers” – kids who score in the middle tenth of results aged 11.
  • (NB – Where statistics are missing, it is prevent people combining data sources to work out something about individual children.)

If you want a tour, I’d recommend scrolling along the coasts. Check out some of the coastal towns, and look at the belt of towns and cities between Hull and Liverpool. Also, take a peek at how few dark red areas there are in London. In-borough variation is interesting, too: look at the massive variation within, say, Kent. Read more

Chris Cook

A big story we have published records the stunning improvement in London’s schools that has taken place over the past decade (also: analysis on the topic).

As part of the number-crunching I did for to that story, I can also provide an update from our measure on social mobility in schools – how much does poverty damage your school results? It’s not good news, alas.

Last year, we reported that our educational mobility index had been rising for five consecutive years – from 2006-10. Unfortunately, this year, things deteriorated a little. That blip upwards in 2010-11 means poverty exerted a bigger influence on the school results of children in 2010-11 than it had in 2009-10.

As a reminder, for those of you who have not committed these things to memory: we measure this through quite a simple metric. First, we draw our old friend, the Graph of Doom, which shows how exam results interact with poverty:

To come up with this graph, we divide the country into hundredths, by their neighbourhood deprivation. Then we plot each grouping’s average score on the line, according to a simple performance measure (which I’ve tweaked since we last did this). Read more

Kate Allen

With the ONS publishing the results of its latest attempt to measure British people’s wellbeing, it’s worth a quick recap of how this compares to other countries’ methods as the collection of international wellbeing data is at an early stage.

Whilst the OECD is in the process of developing guidance to harmonise standards and approaches, existing surveys – including the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey and the Gallup World Poll – vary in approaches.

The ONS questions combined short-term measures with longer-term, more reflective indicators, on a scale of 0-10.

Gallup asks people to rate the quality of their life on a scale of 0-10, while the ESS and the WVS both ask respondents how satisfied they are with their life as a whole, again on a scale of 0-10. They also ask how happy they are, with the ESS again using a 11-point scale and the WVS offering a phrase-based menu of choices. Read more

Kate Allen

The steady improvement in the number of fatal injuries in UK workplaces appears to have tailed off, according to data recently-released to the FT by the Health & Safety Executive*.

173 workers were killed on the job in 2011/12, a rate of 0.6 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Taking into account chance variation, the overall trend suggests that death rates have plateaued since 2008 after a decade of downward trend.

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Chris Cook

The Daily Mail has published a rather startling story: from 2016, children will sit something akin to the old O-levels. Some parts of the story are relatively uncontroversial: the idea that there should be one exam board in each subject has many friends.

The newspaper also discusses abolishing the National Curriculum for secondary schools. However, if you have a single GCSE available in each subject, that sets a national curriculum in all but name. So these are less interesting than the sum of their parts.

But, if the Mail is correct, there is one proposal which stands out: splitting the GCSE. According to the report, under this new scheme some children would get the new O-level, and the bottom 25 per cent would take “CSEs”. This strikes me as a high-risk policy.

The GCSE’s strength is that it is a full-spectrum exam, measuring low to high ability. It includes questions designed to distinguish candidates that should get a G from candidates than deserve an F, as well as questions to filter A* candidates from those getting an A.

This is also its greatest PR weakness: it gets attacked by people citing the low-level questions. The Mail approvingly notes “questions like ‘Would you look at the Moon with a microscope or a telescope?’ from science GCSEs will be a thing of the past.”

The benefit of this system is that you get comparable qualifications, and there is no need for schools to attempt to sift children, guessing who will finish up with less than a C. The GCSE exams themselves do that work for them. But, according to the Mail:

Mr Gove believes those teenagers have been encouraged to think that a D, E, F or G grade at GCSE is a ‘pass’ when the real world treats those grades as a ‘fail’.

I confess that I do not see how it logically follows that the lower end of the GCSE should therefore be replaced with a CSE. The government would replace a D at GCSE with a certificate where the top grade is capped at a D. Maybe something got lost in the briefing.

The change would, however, have significant practical effects. Read more

Chris Cook

At the moment, groups putting forwards bids to open free schools – new academies opened from scratch – are finding out whether they have been approved for 2013 opening. This is an opportune moment to take a quick look at this programme.

Last week, I explained part of why the “converter academies” programme is so popular: it usually comes with a cash incentive to join in. But free schools have their own funding wrinkle. This one encourages primary free schools to be smaller than other local schools.

Using the DfE’s formula for free school funding, we can work out how much a primary free school would get in revenue (day-to-day) funding, plotted against how big it is, if it were to open at full capacity in the London borough of Camden in 2012-13.

Camden free school funding per pupil

This is the output of a formula: every primary free school gets a £95,000 payment plus a certain amount per child, which varies from borough to borough. In Camden, once you have counted in the pupil premium, SEN (special educational needs) funding and other funding, each extra child brings in, on average, an extra £5,870.

But the structure of the formula – a lump sum plus a roughly flat per-pupil payment – means that the amount you receive on average falls as the school grows. This is because the £95,000 lump sum (which is the same for all boroughs) gets shared between more and more pupils.

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With bank profitability unlikely to recover to pre-crisis levels, many investors now argue that cutting staff wages is the only reliable route to higher dividends.

This interactive graphic shows the results of an FT analysis of how the “spoils” to be divided between shareholders and employees at each of the world’s 13 big international banks have changed since 2000. With the pot of “spoils” defined as net profits with staff costs added back in, the chart shows the proportions allocated to dividends, pay and retained earnings.

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Chris Cook

Grammar schools are a seductive idea: skim off high performing children at the age of 11 for education together. At the moment, there are 164 such schools in England, in a few counties which did not manage to slough them off. But their success is a myth. Read more

Chris Cook

What measures should we use for spotting schools that are effective at helping poor children? Not the one proposed by the Department for Education. Read more

Martin Stabe

What we’re reading today in the world of statistics, open data and data journalism:

We like a good political choropleth around here, and Sunday’s European election extravaganza did not disappoint in the psephological cartography department.

A good map of the Greek results can be found at igraphics.gr, Le Monde has the obligatory map of the French presidential election par département, and Michael Neutze’s site Wahlatlas covered the results in the German state of Schleswig-HolsteinRead more

When the Office for National Statistics’ chief economist announced the first official estimate of economic output on Wednesday morning, he faced as many questions about the accuracy of the data as he did about the data themselves.

“We have no reason to believe these figures are any less reliable than would usually be the case,” Joe Grice of the ONS said several times in a press conference about the 0.2 per cent drop in output in the first quarter.

But not everyone was reassured. Kevin Daly, the UK economist at Goldman Sachs, called the ONS estimate “unbelievable”. Peter Dixon, the UK economist at Commerzbank, said: “Frankly, I don’t believe it.”

They were sceptical because unofficial indicators over the past three months had suggested the economy was growing again. The popular Markit purchasing managers’ index surveys of the construction, manufacturing and services sectors, for example, were consistent with output growth of about 0.5 per cent in the first quarter.

On Wednesday, the CBI employers’ group released a survey of the manufacturing sector that appeared to show improving orders and output volumes in the three months to April and the first improvement in sentiment in a year.

Disagreements over the reliability of official data are not uncommon, but they are important this time because the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee appears to have sided with the sceptics, making it less likely the MPC will approve more quantitative easing next month.

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Valentina Romei

With the focus on today’s UK GDP numbers showing the UK is technically back in recession after the economy shrunk 0.2 percent in the first quarter, it is worth remembering another important aspect of GDP – levels.

The most recent IMF World Economic Outlook shows clearly that three of the G7 economies Japan, the UK and – more drastically – Italy have never managed to go back to pre-crisis levels of GDP.

GDP growth rebased

GDP growth (rebased) Source: IMF

Why does this matter? Well it isn’t until pre-crisis levels of GDP are reached it can be meaningfully said economies have returned to some sort of normality (my colleague Keith Fray has written more about thisRead more

Emily Cadman

Today’s EU foreign ministers meeting to discuss the possible relaxing of sanctions against Myanmar is the latest sign of diplomatic relations easing between the desperately poor south east Asian state and the west.

As relations improve, and investors and businesses eye up opportunities, its worth remembering just how poor Myanmar is compared to its neighbours. Read more