As part of Twitter's #EducationDay yesterday we tweeted a few interesting facts and figures gleaned from our schools database. Here's a summary for the record, and for anyone who wasn't following along at the time.
Observing that it was also World Maths Day (which actually lasts for 3 or 4 days, but whose counting? ;), we started with a few maths-related facts:
Ever-controversial, grammar schools were in the news yesterday so we also ran some numbers – and produced a few new maps – about them too. The overall proportion of grammar schools is very low (well under 1%), but they are most prominent in the south east and in some localities can make up 5% or 6% of schools. (Update: For clarity, that should be "...well under 1% of all schools". Grammar schools make up about 5% of secondary schools in England, and in some local authority areas account for 20-30% of secondary schools.)
But do grammar schools help kids excel, or do they just pick the ones who are talented to being with? Data alone can't answer this question, but they do throw some interesting light on it. For a start, it's clear (though utterly unsurprising) that selective schools get better exam results than non-selective ones. In 2014 the percentage of pupils getting 5 A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths) was 55% across all non-selective schools in England, but 97% in selective (ie, grammar) schools.
More interestingly, the GCSE 'value add' measure calculated by the Department for Education (which takes into account pupils' prior attainment so, at least in theory, controls for the pre-selection effect) gives a mean of 980 across all non-selective schools but 1023 for selective schools. So it would seem that grammar schools do more than just pick the best students, they also get more out of them. If so then the important question is whether they do this in a way that contributes to the common good (eg, you could argue that the kind of streaming they represent benefits all kids because each gets the most appropriate kind of education for their interests and abilities), or in a way that is detrimental to it (eg, by attracting the best teachers away from schools that cater of the less fortunate or less able). Unfortunately this is very hard to answer objectively, at least with the currently available data.
Moving on to grammar of a different sort, we also looked at performance in English. At age 11, London dominates in grammar, punctuation and spelling, but with Trafford as a notable beacon in the north. Among individual schools, Holy Redeemer in Pershore has been consistently great in Reading at age 11, with >95% of pupils achieving Level 5 during the period 2011-14.
Next we took on the grubby subject of money with the following random observations:
Finally, we couldn't resist a couple of geographical superlatives: England's northernmost school is Berwick St Mary's in Berwick-upon-Tweed, and its southernmost is The Five Islands School on the Isles of Scilly.
cilly' is indeed the word for such a ragbag collection of facts, but we hope you enjoyed perusing them as much as we enjoyed putting them together.
The relationships between schools are many and varied. Some merge or split; others launch new schools or turn themselves in academies; others still share a site, sponsor or federation. Then there are the links between 'feeder' and 'destination' schools as pupils progress through the phases of their education. Understanding this complex web of affiliations and connections is difficult – and so, as we've discovered, is analysing and presenting them coherently. But that's what we've attempted in the latest version of our Dashboards.
The bits to check out are the Associated Schools section on the right of each school profile, under the map, and the 'History' field in the School Type section on the left. Among many other things, we've linked 'parent' schools to their institutional offspring, merged schools with their pre-merger predecessors, new academies with their own former selves, and sixth-form colleges with the various schools that educate their future students. Where a school has closed, we've also indicated, where applicable, which schools have succeeded it.
We've made dozens of other additions and improvements too, but rather than try to list them all we'll just let you enjoy the (hopefully) slicker and more informative experience. Naturally, we've brought all the data bang up to date as well, so the information you see is the very latest from the DfE, the ONS and our other sources.
Like proverbial London buses, you wait ages for a SchoolDash blog post then two come along at once. ;)
The truth is we've been rather busy over the last couple of weeks, but are now very pleased to be able to announce the first phase our dashboards in the form of SchoolDash Profiles. These currently cover all state schools in England along with many private schools. Assembling them has been a mammoth task because, although much of the data is freely available it takes a lot of cleaning, consolidation and correction to turn it into something truly useful. This process has involved:
We hope you'll agree that the effort has been worthwhile. Among other things, you'll find information about locations, staff and pupils, budgets and Ofsted inspections, as well as links to other associated, nearby and demographically similar schools. Most importantly, the profiles provide a foundation on which we can now build an even fuller view of these institutions. So look out in coming weeks for further rich, interactive information on the academic, financial and other activities of each school.
We're also keen to integrate SchoolDash Profiles with SchoolDash Maps. You'll already find links from each school profile to maps of the corresponding regions, local authority areas and parliamentary constituencies. But it would be great to be able to go the other way too, clicking from a map to the individual schools in that area.
Now there's an idea. Watch this space...
It's been a while (reasons why in another post) so I thought I'd summarise some of the coverage and debate we've stimulated since launching our SchoolDash Maps three weeks ago.
Matt "M@" Brown at the Londonist and Feargus O'Sullivan at CityLab (a spin-off from the US-based Atlantic magazine) both wrote about the remarkable effectiveness of London's schools, which have collectively turned themselves around from dismal failures a decade ago to the nation-leading, perhaps even world-leading, institutions they are today. No one fully understands how this happened, though it's almost certainly a combination of factors, including improved administration and London's continuing attractiveness to aspirational parents, teachers and kids. Interestingly, people in the US are especially interested in this effect as they tend to assume (like so many of us have) that cities, whilst being great places to live and work, are doomed to provide substandard schooling. London gives the lie to such lazy thinking. This led on Wednesday to Feargus from CityLab, BBC education correspondent Sean Coughlan and me being interviewed on HuffPost Live. It was a fun discussion, though as far as I can tell there's no online archive footage to which I can link. :(
UPDATE: I spoke too soon. Here is a link to the HuffPost Live segment.
Pete Etchells writing for The Guardian mentioned London's remarkable educational performance too, but (fellow science geek that he is) also reviewed patterns of GCSE science attainment and progress across England, and uncovered some interesting regional variations. Finally, I wrote an invited piece for the parent website Your Active Kid to introduce people to our new service.
Over the last couple of weeks I've also had countless email exchanges and in-person discussions with a wide range of fascinating people concerned with education: policymakers, analysts, charities, publishers, parents and of course teachers. Those conversations are continuing and some will no doubt lead to more posts here in future. For now, though, the level and quality of interest in what we're doing is a source of great encouragement and inspiration.
This is the SchoolDash blog, where we write about education, data geekery and other things that spark our interest.
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