Education

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

Last week, the excellent Paul Francis, political editor of the Kent Messenger, reported that Kent, the most significant selective county left in England had come up with a clever plan: to make the entry test for grammar schools “tutor-proof”.

This idea comes up a lot, largely from people promoting selection. You can see why: it is often presented as a means of squaring a problem. They can argue that grammar schools help bright poor children while dealing with the fact that very few get into them.

But, in truth, a properly administered test, which accurately captures the education enjoyed by people at the age of 11, should exclude large numbers of poor children. Not because they are intrinsically less able. But, at 11, the poor-rich divide is already a chasm. Read more

Chris Cook

One question I get asked a lot is: “You say that Frewmanackshire is a terrible local authority. How do you know? Do you know what we are working with?” etc etc. It is true that schools with radically different intakes cannot be usefully compared. So I thought I would let you in on how I benchmark schools, and supply you with two jolly new maps.

What I do for secondary schools, is run a simple regression – that is to say, I fit a simple line through all the pupils’ school results in the country after asking it to account for the children’s ethnicity, poverty and prior test results. Unlike other models, the regression contains precisely zero information about the schools – only data about the children. Read more

Chris Cook

On Thursday afternoon, journalists were taken into the basement of a Westminster building, fed chicken satay and walked through Ofqual’s report on the recent English GCSE. During the summer, a late shift in grade boundaries shocked schools, leaving many high-flying schools with significantly worse results than they had been expecting.

The most striking outcome of the Ofqual research is that it seems to find evidence of cheating. It is incidental to the main purpose of the review, which was to ask whether the shift in the grade boundaries was correct. But it’s a stunning – and quite clear – finding.

Here is the issue: English GCSE can be taken in such a way that the pupil has done everything except for teacher-marked “controlled assessments” in the final months. If they do that, the teachers know what marks each pupil needs. And teachers give those marks.

In the graph below, Ofqual have worked out how many marks candidates needed from their teachers to get a C. If they got a mark to the right of the red vertical line, the teacher gave them a high enough grade to get the C. The shape of that distribution is, frankly, a sign of something horribly wrong. Teachers are massaging marks.

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Kate Allen

Far too few people in the UK have the quantitative skills needed by employers and policy-makers, according to a paper published this week by the British Academy. It argues the deficit has

Serious implications for the future of the UK’s status as a world leader in research and higher education, for the employability of our graduates, and for the competitiveness of the UK’s economy.

As increasing amounts of data becomes available in large-scale databases, public debate will increasingly turn on statistical arguments, the group said, and it is therefore essential to provide citizens with the ability to understand, analyse and criticise data – indeed, this will be “ever more integral to the functioning of a democracy”.

The report comes as a new £15.5m funding programme is launched by the Economic & Social Research Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Nuffield Foundation, aiming to boost quantitative methods training in UK universities’ social science departments. Up to 15 universities will receive funding to become centres of excellence for quantitative methods training.

The British Academy traces the skills deficit back to school level, where the UK lags behind many other countries in the proportion of pupils studying maths at upper secondary level (beyond 16). This was illustrated in a paper for the Nuffield Foundation in 2010.

Maths participation rates at upper-secondary level Read more

Chris Cook

John Goldthorpe, a pioneer and leader in sociology, is always worth reading. This week, he has written a piece that delivers a kicking to assumptions in Whitehall, Westminster and Fleet Street. But it also poses a significant challenge to organisations like TeachFirst.

The piece centres on the misreadings of the academic literature of social mobility. But, from there, it moves on to the limitations of an education policy on its own. His work suggests school reform is not going to improve mobility. This should be taken seriously.

He has been pointing this out for some time. But, this time, he’s done two things that ought to make this easier for journalists to follow. First, he uses smaller words than usual. Second, he talks about the media, and we are obsessed by that.

He posits why the media have not followed the argument. I rather like the idea of “media hysteresis”:

the tendency within the media, once a particular ‘line’ on any issue has become widely accepted, for this line to be maintained as the standard output, regardless of any further inputs.

Read it here. Or at least cast your eyes over the conclusion, which I have pasted below. Agree or not, they are fantastically interesting and his voice carries a level of authority usually only accorded to those of burning bushes. Read more