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Our nation’s ability to report and consume simple statistics

This is a comment about our nation’s ability to report and consume simple statistics, not a comment on social mobility.

In the Sunday Times published on 20 November this year, there were the headlines: “Southeast primary schools do best in Sats tests”.

The article states, “More than half of England’s best state primaries are in London and the southeast of England……” It goes on to say, “of the top 500 schools in the Parent Power rankings 136 are in London and 120 in the southeast…. By contrast, northwest primaries account for 76 of the top 500, followed by  ….. 23 in the ….”northeast”

The article seems to be written as if there is some injustice that needs to be righted, as it goes on to say, “the findings will add to the fears of a growing north-south divide, escalating anxieties that children living outside the wealthy southeast have less chance of getting a good education….”

There clearly are concerns about social mobility, but my concern here is that quoting statistics out of context is not untypical for our British media, and actually represents a much greater failure in our education’s system in that understanding of simple statistics seems beyond a large percentage of even the best educated of our nation.

For example, in the above article, the first question that should come to mind (as the facts are omitted!) is actually how many primary schools are there in England, and how many in the southeast vs, say, the northeast.

From the Government’s National Statistics Service, there are (in 2012 – the latest figures available) 16,818 primaries in England, 2,606 being in the southeast and 878 being in the northeast. Thus, 120/2,606 = 4.6% in the top 500, and in the northeast 23/878 = 2.6% in the top 500. Gives a slightly different perspective on the north-south divide!

All comments welcome….

Regards, David

DAVID ANKER, Director – Client Services

Lightfoot Solutions UK Limited, Richmond House, Oldbury, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 8TQ

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