Scribblings Resurrection

Education and statistics

Monday, 11 April 2005

I have just heard Stephen Twigg, Minister of State for School Standards, on Radio 4’s Today programme attempting to defend the government’s record on education. The current situation is that 20% of children, at age 11, do not reach Level 4 in their SATs.

Fact is that the SATs were never designed to do otherwise. Level 4 is the level which the average child is expected to reach. That 20% of children do not reach level 4 is down to the nature of averages and not to any problem with the education system. There may be a problem with the system but these statistics are not a symptom of it. I once heard Norman Tebbit, I think it was, on the same programme many years ago bemoaning the fact that over 50% of children were merely average. For heavens sake, of course they are. The very definition of “average”, assuming a bell curve of abilities, means that 50% of children will be above average while 50% will be below.

The real problem then is the politician’s and the public’s lack of understanding of simple statistics. I find it hard to believe that Twigg himself does not understand it. It’s more likely that he’s afraid of trying to explain it in case his opponents accuse him of making excuses. Perhaps he should try though. To try to explain an apparent problem is not the same as making an excuse. Why not give it a try, Stephen? That only 20% of children do not reach Level 4 may be an indication of success rather than failure.

Posted 11 April 2005, 07:52 BST