Polly visits a school and Polly on statistics

This is great fun. All is well in our schools because:

I was assigned to Chris Brolly, a Teach First-er in his third year. His 12- and 13-year-olds have been inventing a product – bottled water – and it\’s my task to help them write a press release. Can they create their own USP, write a grabby headline, hold the fleeting attention of a journalist, persuade with seductive language?

Yes, because 12 year olds are being taught how to write a press release.

Then there\’s Polly\’s famed connection with statistics:

But only a third of pupils who get good GCSE grades are on free school meals. A YouGov poll finds most voters don\’t think poorer children will ever get an equal education. Gove, calling for payment by results, cited Singapore\’s high-achieving school system, \”where expectations are higher\”. What he didn\’t say is that Singapore, like top performer Finland, is one of the most equal of developed nations. As his government drives up inequality, his schools face an ever tougher task compensating for the society they inhabit.

We generally measure inequality by Gini. 0.25 or so is Scandinavian style lots of equality (I am using the figures after the impact of the tax and benefit systems, of course). Above 0.35 or so is about the US and worse than the UK, 0.45, there\’s only one OECD country that bad, Chile, above 0.50 or so is Brazilian style oligarchy.

Singapore? 0.473.

Finland is in there with Scandi style 0.26 or so.

So, we seem to have one of the most equal and one of the most unequal countries managing to provide a very fine education to the kiddies. We might thererfore conclude that inequality is not the determinant of providing a fine education. Death of Polly\’s point, eh?

24 comments on “Polly visits a school and Polly on statistics

  1. I did notice that point on Singapore, since Labour MPs had previously been claiming that Singapore could not be used as a model for the UK precisely because it is so unequal – so there is not universal education there, in the same sense as the UK.
    I believe these might be older figures, but I did tweet her the following picture: http://thehearttruths.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/gini-coefficient1.jpg
    The point remains the same: Singapore is unequal but has a fine education system. I have not heard a response.

  2. “But only a third of pupils who get good GCSE grades are on free school meals.”
    Wow a third!!! That’s a HUUUGE percentage! All problems of social mobility and inclusivity solved by only two years of Michael Gove.

    Polly can bugger off to Tuscany permanently now; her work is done.

    Er, unless that is not quite right. We need a pendant to analyse this a bit more.

  3. I recall listening Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore many years ago. He was addressing the year’s graduating class at NUS. It went something like ‘You’ve all done very well but don’t get carried away. There are a limited number of places at the top and very few of you will be afforded the opportunity. Your role in life will most probably be to sit quietly at your desk and do your duty as prescribed.’ I guess you could probably say the same thing to most graduates in many countries, but at the time it didn’t sound particularly inspiring. Something like ‘Do as you’re told in life and don’t rock the boat.’

  4. Last time I was in Singapore – May 2010 for a job interview – the taxi driver from the airport told me he benefitted greatly from the British colonial education system which was both excellent and free. Not often you hear somebody praise the British colonists.

  5. About 15% of GCSE pupils are eligible for free school meals. So it would be remarkable if they constituted a third of the pupils getting good grades.

    I guess that she means that only a third of pupils on free school meals get good GCSE grades, which would be about right if you define good as five GCSEs including English and Maths at grade C or better.

  6. I think you’ll find lots of ordinary people who can remember the days of colonialism look back on those times fondly, Tim Newman. I found such sentiments in Zimbabwe and my mother and father were asked when they were coming back (he was a colonial policeman) when they revisited a few years back. It’s rather like the Life of Brian quote on the Romans and law and order:

    Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let’s face it; they’re the only ones who could in a place like this.

  7. Well yes, that whole “what have the Romans” thread of Life of Brian was written as a satire on decolonisation and the various ultra-pro-Empire posh Indians and Africans that the Pythons had encountered around Oxbridge and London.

    Still not quite as good as the satire on the student left, which remains completely accurate to this day. SPLITTERS!

  8. Who’s going to tell Polly?

    BTW, has this differential only occured in the last 3 years or could it possibly, just possibly, have been this way all the way through 13 years of Labour as well?

  9. >I guess that she means that only a third of pupils on free school meals get good GCSE grades

    No problem there, then. She got it completely ass-backwards (or just completely wrong altogether), but why quibble about the numbers when she is obviously so compassionate?

  10. The people I met in Zimbabwe and my parents met in Uganda had certainly not been to Oxbridge and London, john b, they had, however, spent a long time enduring the alternative to colonialism. While colonialism may be wrong, if the alternative is Mugabe, Obote and Amin then to the ordinary folk it doesn’t seem so bad. Even some Aussies are wondering if a viceroy wouldn’t be preferable to Julia Gillard.

  11. “because 12 year olds are being taught how to write a press release.”

    Not sure what the point there was, if it’s not some kind of sneer at the lesson. Seems very sensible to teach kids all about marketing, press-puffery, and so-on – not so they can do it themselves, but so they can watch out for it when it’s done to them.

  12. Oh, and on the subject of GCSE grades, it seems bonkers to have this discussion whilst claiming ‘good’ grades are ones which still leave a school-leaver unemployable. Given that we have now redefined our exams as minimum competency certificates, acceptable grades would be ten or a dozen A*s from every pupil. Hell, if we were looking at 10 A* to C grades, maybe we could talk. Five? Pathetic. You could teach a dog to get five Cs at GCSE.

  13. That the gap is narrowing doesnt tell us much – it could well be a statistical artifact caused by declining standards.

  14. I don’t really have a problem with 12 year olds being taught how to write a press release because

    – at least they are being taught how to write something; and
    – I frequently encounter 22-yr-olds, 32-year-olds and even 42-yr-olds who can’t write a f****** press release.

    Given that something horrific like one in five Britons is functionally illiterate (and there are figures as high as 42% of school leavers at 16 being functionally illiterate) I don’t care if they’re teaching them to write porn. As long as it’s correctly spelled and punctuated and has an underlying grammatical structure.

  15. Even some Aussies are wondering if a viceroy wouldn’t be preferable to Julia Gillard.

    I took a quick snap-poll amongts my lads yesterday morning, and they reckon the only routes out of Nigeria’s current demise are either a full-on war or a return to military dictatorship.

  16. On a tangent, Norway, in there at around a GINI of 25, ensures equality by providing free school meals to noone, and a mediocre education to everyone.

  17. I can’t help slightly disingenuously wondering if Polly might not be missing something. Are exam results correlated with intelligence? Is likelihood of being poor enough to qualify for free school meals associated with (parents’) intelligence? Is intelligence heritable? Are we to be forever frustrated at the silk purse/sow’s ear problem? Note that I’m not saying anything as reductive as ‘poor people are thick so might as well write them off’ but it does seem that even given unlimited resources there will be some pupils who will not do well academically and those are likely to be over-represented among the less affluent, thus making Mrs. Pollybee’s musings even less meaningful than usual.

  18. Pingback: Yet More Wacky Curriculum Requests… | Orphans of Liberty

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