A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lies, damned lies and Tory think-tank statistics

The right-wing think tank CPS (http://www.cps.org.uk/) is heralding polling it has done as proof of public support for a return to selective secondary education.

I thought I'd actually skim through their report, which is online here: http://www.cps.org.uk/latestpublications/

Approx 2 minutes of reading found two examples of deliberate misuse of statistics:

a) The public support figure is a straightforward misrepresentation of the polling results. The CPS says it "suggests that most people are in favour of some form of selection" - actually the detailed figures in the report say only 36% support selective schools, 20% support mixed ability classes and 40% "favour streamed by ability in mixed-ability schools" - i.e there is 60% public support for some form of comprehensive education.

b) The report makes a completely absurd case that selective education produces better results across the board - but does this in 2 ways - 1) by comparing A-level results at grammar schools (where all pupils are selected for their ability to pass exams) with a lumped together figure for both comprehensives and the secondary modern schools that in residual selective areas get all the pupils not good at passing exams and 2) by comparing GCSE results in areas that are wholly selective with those that are wholly comprehensive - which is confusing pattern with causality - the reason why GCSE results are better in wholly selective areas than wholly comprehensive is that the hold-outs against comprehensive education were mainly Tory LEAs in more prosperous areas like Buckinghamshire or Kent whilst those that went furthest towards comprehensive schooling were mainly inner-city poorer areas. GCSE results in Buckinghamshire are good because the kids there mainly come from well-off homes where they get a lot of a head start in life - not because of the school structure there. And what are the results at secondary modern schools in LEAs that have kept selection?

The reason why there is 60% support for comprehensives is that parents are not stupid - they know that for every 1 kid that got a grammar school place under the old 11+, another 9 had a second-class education at a secondary modern. You don't have to have the CPS' ability to massage numbers to work out that makes the odds of your kids getting a good education very low.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Selection destroys peoples lives at the age of 11. It's true that some are strong enough to fight their way to the top after being branded a failure but far too many do not.

5:11 pm, January 03, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for confirming what I selected from reading the BBC News report of this. A pity they did not do any critical checking instead of simply reporting this (like many other think tank pieces) without challenge.

It would be interesting to see how the proportion supporting selective schools would change if you adjusted for those whose children would and would not get a place in such. In my experience, a significant proportion of parents assume that their child would go to a grammar school and are much less supportive of selection once they discover that they will not.

8:02 pm, January 03, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, good call Luke.

It baffles me sometimes how a bunch of unexamined prejudices sprinkled with a few very choice and often spurious stats can count as news. But I guess the Telegraph loves the CPS, and so that starts the rest of the herd off.

(Part of Blackwell's argument was a second-rate rehashing of a Sunday Times leader column from a year ago - I've taken a pop at it myself).

1:55 pm, January 04, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe it's still a debate really. Mixed ability teaching is silly for most subjects, but separate schools with a fixed cut-off age is pretty much unfair and unworkable. Streaming within schools (well, setting ideally) makes sense.

Have you read Scenes from the Battleground on the question of education? It's a bit depressing, and all the more so given it's written by someone sound on all the major issues, not a Daily Mail reading Tory.

4:44 pm, January 04, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not at all convinced streaming makes sense (though some setting is possibly desirable). Is that JDC who used to be in Oxford Labour Club millions of years ago, or a different JDC entirely?

8:17 pm, January 04, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same one. It really was millions of years ago wasn't it? Well, nearly seven. Can I presume that's not Duncan who just e-mailed be about oil prices and the exchange rate?

Streaming is less flexible of course, but it can have advantages if you're going across-subjects where skill sets are similar, and you get the benefit of not having to move kids to and from different rooms, separate up peer groups, lose continuity of teaching, and so on.

At my school we were set for Maths and English, and then streamed for the rest - I have to say I was less sure there was a logic to it all for Art, but then I was useless at that. I wish we'd been set for PE as well, then I'd have been with other rubbish people! There might be an argument for setting separately for languages, come to think of it, I can't remember if we did that. Of course once you get to choosing GCSE options it becomes timetabling hell, but there we are.

9:32 am, January 05, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No I haven't emailed you about oil prices (!!!) - our common 'buddy' all those years ago was one Mr. Andrew Smith, when he (and I) was at Warwick... I'm thinking back to the heady days of the ADLC (and when I see young Patrick Diamond parading the corridors of Progress, I feel so very, very proud...)

I think any dividing up on ability should be the exception not the rule - streaming is just selection under one roof; okay it's more flexible than actually sending people to seperate buildings, but only marginally so. One of the ways to go beyond learning by rote into deeper, more analytical types of learning is to teach it yourself, therefore mixed ability classes certainly benefit the brighter students if properly managed. And I would suggest that it benefits the less able as well, as sometimes the support of peers can be invaluable. Of course, it can just be awful - and there's a special skill (which I don't presume to possess) to effectively manage a completely comprehensive class to everyone's benefit - but where it's successful, I think it is by far the best way for everyone to learn.

4:19 pm, January 06, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Duncan,

nice to be remembered. How are you?

You are of course completely wrong about mixed ability teaching. It is possible to set mixed ability work, it is possible to walk around a classroom helping mixed ability pupils.

However to actually teach, to actually transmit knowledge, you can only ever pitch your explanation at one level. Mixed ability teaching is a contradiction in terms.

9:49 pm, January 11, 2007


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