Welcome to SchoolDash, a hobby project that got out of control. :) For the last year or so I've been looking at the reams of data made available by the UK Department for Education (DfE). As the father of three school-age children – and simply as an engaged citizen – I found many of the insights fascinating. This website is my way of sharing them with others who might find them similarly interesting.
To take one example, there's been some comment (at least in education circles) about the remarkable effectiveness of London schools – and you can see what they mean by exploring our maps. Despite numerous apparent challenges, such as very large numbers of pupils per school, relatively high levels of economic deprivation and stratospherically high proportions of pupils for whom English is an "additional language", 11-year-olds (to pick one age group) in Greater London outperform those in the rest of the country. (And recall that London is important not just because it's our capital city, it's also the biggest region of the country in terms of school pupil numbers, as this cartogram shows.) This effect is surely explained in part by the fact that London receives more money per pupil than other regions, and perhaps by the relatively generous (though not country-leading) teacher salaries. However, I don't think that's the whole answer, and as far as I can tell no one really knows. It will be fun trying to find out more.
Then there's the perennial concern that the UK is falling behind in maths, particularly compared to east Asian nations. But even if we're bad on this front, we're not all equally bad. At the end of Key Stage 1 (7 years old), the south east does best. At Key Stage 2, London is streets ahead of the rest of the country, at least at upper end of the ability scale (it's a bit more even lower down). And by GCSE, pupils studying south of the Bristol Channel and the Wash have on average progressed more than those to the north. Needless to say, these broad regional trends hide a great deal of local variety. Just as Britain might be able to learn from successful oriental nations, perhaps schools and authorities that are struggling in maths have things to learn from others in the same country that are faring better.
These two examples shouldn't be taken to suggest that everything is great in the south and crap in the north. For example, 7-to-11-year-olds in the north make great progress in reading, and northern regions (as well as London) seem to do particularly well at supporting pupils who are economically disadvantaged, or who have generally struggled at Key Stage 1, and bringing them up to scratch at Key Stage 2.
But if there's anything I've learned so far by poring over these data, it is that (a) London is exceptional in all sorts of different ways, and that (b) quite a few measures show a clear north-south gradient (though always, it has to be said, with much more variegated local patterns when you drill down). Two more examples of the latter: schools in the south raise more of their own money, while those in the north spend more of what they have on heating and light. Neither of these represent large proportions of school funds, and neither trend is entirely unexpected, but I think they're worth recognising and discussing.
Analyses like these can't tell us everything, it's true. For a start, many school activities – from PE and music to plays and trips – are not captured at all. Even more significantly, the things we most value about our schools – their sense of community and the values they instill in our children – are not amenable to simple quantification. I would no sooner select a school for my kids based solely on the data than choose my spouse the same way. But the numbers do tell us something. Even if they do not, on their own, give us answers, they at least enable us to ask better questions, and they inform the debate about how we should educate our children. That is why I created this site.
This is the SchoolDash blog, where we write about education, data geekery and other things that spark our interest.
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