Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Dismal science

This is why economics is the dismal science. The number crunchers at the Office for National Statistics divide spending by GCSE results and claim 'productivity' in education is falling (or at least did so until a year ago and is now 'flat'). Their calculations are meaningless rubbish akin to quite a lot of what the statisticians come up with, even if the leader writers at the Torygraph have been salivating over them. Schools have improved immeasurably over recent years, as anyone who visits them can attest. A lot of the extra spending since 1997 has gone on paying teachers a decent salary, hiring teaching assistants, installing computers and rebuilding schools. It will take years to measure any effect of this spending on GCSE results. Even those who have had five years of the literacy hour have yet to take their GCSEs. When I worked in the DFES, the statisticians told me that there were still classes of over 40 well after we were sure we had got most classes down to 30. Given they had taken a census - and we had data for every primary school in the country - I asked them to tell me which schools they were so we might target extra teachers to them. A few days later the statistician returned, sheepishly, to inform me that the classes in question weren't actually classes at all. The data was based on where children were at 11am on a particular day in January. Those in 'classes of 40' were in assembly or watching a film with another class. I won't repeat any cliches about statistics.

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