Increasingly, children and young people are stepping into political
arenas that have been considered the realm of adults. In an insecure world,
they are campaigning for their own lives and futures.
In the UK this year, students joined school ‘strikes’, taking to the
streets to demand that more be done to tackle climate change. In the USA
children and young people took a lead in the March For Our Lives protests in
response to gun violence and school shootings.
More children are being invited to contribute their opinions on
television and radio programmes. Greta Thunberg’s addresses to Westminster and
the UN are a case in point. And, of course, social media has made it easier for
young people to join in debate and to organise.
If anyone has ever read one of the international PISA
reports or seen Andreas Schleicher present they will know that the OECD is
rather fond of cross-national scatterplots. These illustrate the relationship
between two variables measured at the country level.
Take, for instance, the chart below. This has been taken from one of Mr Schleicher’s blogposts, and illustrates the relationship between a country’s test scores and its rate of economic growth. It has been interpreted by the OECD as showing “that the quality of schooling in a country is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run”.
The trouble is, correlation does not equal causation. And,
despite the OECD’s obsession with such cross-country relationships, they can often
Should we eat more fish?
Of course, it is not only the OECD that produces such analyses. Academics do as well.
One of the more unusual examples I have found is this study
by a group of epidemiologists. They look (I kid you not) at the relationship
between average fish consumption and average PISA test scores.
Somehow, the study manages to find a strong positive
correlation of around 0.6! It then goes on to conclude that a “linear
association between fish consumption and PISA scores is likely” and that “it is
plausible to assume that a higher level of fish consumption drives improvement
at school level”.
As a nation of fish-and-chip lovers, this should be good
news for our PISA scores…
But isn’t eating ice-cream just as important?
Getting kids to eat more fish is difficult. My little boy
hates the stuff! He does, however, like ice-cream – and lots of it (who doesn’t?).
If only eating ice-cream were as good for PISA scores as eating fish.
Well, apparently it is.
The chart below provides one of my all-time favourite PISA
graphs. It plots the level of ice-cream consumption of a country against
average PISA reading scores. There is actually quite a strong positive
relationship, with around half the variation in PISA scores explained.
It also seems that the relationship is exponential (i.e. the line of best fit is curved upwards). Not only should we eat more ice-cream, but we should be eating lots of it.
The take-away message (no pun intended)
Hopefully, the point of this blogpost has become clear.
When the PISA results get released at the start of
December, the international report and presentations given by the OECD are
bound to include this kind of graph, along with stories about how ‘high-performing
countries’ all do X, Y or Z.
Clearly, we should be treating any such interpretation of
the PISA results with caution. There are likely to be hundreds, if not
thousands, of reasons why some countries do well on PISA and others don’t. In reality,
it is almost impossible to separate these competing reasons out.
What we do know is that overly simplistic “explanations”
for the PISA results must be avoided. Organisations like the OECD have their
own agenda, and it is just too easy for such groups to use the results to
promote their own hobby-horses.
Britain’s private schools have again entered
the public eye, with increasing concern over social mobility and social
justice. There have been pressures for reform from several quarters. The most
extreme was a September call for their ‘abolition’ from the annual conference
of Labour, Britain’s main opposition party.
But whether one’s preference is for
abolition, radical reform or no reform at all, confusion continues over what
private schools actually do.
The question is: does private schooling in Britain actually improve children’s academic performance, beyond what would happen if they attended state schools, once account is taken of the characteristics of the children who attend them?
Private schools find themselves in the news lately, more than they usually are. Boris Johnson became the fifth Old Etonian prime minister since the war, and immediately appointed a cabinet in which nearly two-thirds were privately educated, re-affirming once again what the Sutton Trust and the government’s Social Mobility Commission have been revealing about the political influence of the privately educated. At the same time, for the first time in many decades the possibility of radical private school reform has entered the political agenda.
Formal evidence on what private schools do can help people evaluate views about Britain’s private school system and whether there is a need for reform. There are two important findings from our latest research which looks at a cohort born in 1990 and Read more ›