Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Edukashun, Edukashun, Edukashun

Every year, we go through a familiar cycle. Exam results come out, and they are usually better than the previous year's. The government hails them as an example of increasing standards. The opposition pooh-poohs them as an example of easier exams.

So who is right? Certainly in the national conciousness, the apparent view is that the Tories are right. But is this view backed up by the facts, or is it just a collective set of prejudices based on tabloidism and nostalgia?

Well, the US based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement has report that comes out every four years - The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss). The latest report covering 2007 has just come out, and it compares 60 countries around the world for 10 and 14 year old students' ability and the standards used.

So where is England?

In the top ten for both science and Maths for both age-levels, ranging between at 5th and 7th places. Above Germany, Sweden and the US in each case. The top five are dominated by Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, with Latvia, Russia and South Korea doing well.

Was this better than last time?

Yes. Last time (2003) England came 18th for Maths at age 14. This time England came 7th. What is more, the previous years were even worse - in 1999 we cam 20th and in 1995 we came 25th. So clearly there is a trend of improvement over the past 12 years, accelerated in recent years.

But guess what, the Tories are claiming that it's still a failure. That's right, we've moved up from 'mid table mediocrity' under the Major government to the top ten, and Michael Gove calls us 'Second Division'. Just as with the economy, the Tories will talk down the country in order to attack the government.

(hat tip: Bob Piper)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

So, what would you do then, Dave?

Do the Tories care?

Well, I still have no answer. They do want to hold an election (because they think they'd win it), and Cameron today has launched an attack on the Government's policy to spend money and give tax breaks to combat recession.

Thing is, if the Tories want an election over the economy and the recession, they could do worse than to tell us what they would do.


In the meantime, a couple of weeks ago the Tory Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley wrote the following on his blog:

"Interestingly on many counts, recession can be good for us. People tend to smoke less, drink less alcohol, eat less rich food and spend time at home with their families."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lie detectors?

James Purnell (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), is talking about bringing lie-detectors in to help find people who are lying in order to get benefits.

Problem is that lie detectors don't work (last item). They tend to give many false positives, which means more work for people to do to investigate claimants (and despite the idea that the benefits agency won't take a failed test as evidence, the suspicion will likely be there for some time) but they can also be beaten by people who look up a few ways to do it. More info here.

EDIT 5 Dec 15:33 - I saw a very interesting (and far more detailed) analysis from Unity today. Essentially he's saying that lie detectors can 'work', but for detecting stress, rather than for detecting lies (honest people can be stressed under questioning, and liars can be ice-cold)