Neighbourhood Statistics or just “Worst towns for GCSE”?

Sometimes even I think statistics aren’t that helpful, particularly if they are reported thoughtlessly.  Last Friday afternoon brought a prompt report from the Telegraph about some Education statistics released that day.  The report title “Worst towns for GCSEs named in new league tables” wasn’t that accurate but sounded sexier than “Neighbourhood statistics in England: academic year 2012 to 2013”.  In fact, the Department for Education didn’t name anything, there wan’t even a proper press release, it just announced the release of the data as a series of maps and a (rather large) zip file of data.  There were no “new league tables” – this was just the 2013 performance table data analysed by the local authority district of residence of the pupil involved.  Yes, that’s right, by residence, so where they live, not where they go to school.

5+ GCSEs at grades A*-C including English & Maths by local authority district 2012-13

5+ GCSEs at grades A*-C including English & Maths by local authority district 2012-13

The maps are quite nice, even if they don’t tell much without some cross-reference to prior attainment or deprivation.  Here’s one, and there are plenty more on the release page.

Full marks to the Telegraph for unzipping the statistical release, calculating the figures and getting out a fast story (at least I think that’s what happened, because nowhere can I find anything but underlying raw data with no % figures).  However, it is definitely “nul points” for trotting out the same dreary “worst towns” type headline.  The areas in the underlying data aren’t towns or local authorities, but are actually local authority districts.  Some of them don’t even have a secondary school in them, including the two “towns” which came top of the “new league table”, each with fewer than 25 pupils.  All a bit pointless.  Also a bit useless for the Telegraph not to include a link to the raw data, but that seems par for the course.

I’m glad we can produce statistics like this – that’s a powerful facility, but I don’t think any of these will be used by anybody to improve education.  Why aren’t we investing in statistics that drive improvement instead?

If you are familiar with “Local Authority Districts”, or “Middle-Layer Super Output Areas” (how’s that for a niche audience?) you can explore the data for your own area by searching at Neighbourhood Statistics.  When you get to your area, (and you can pick LAs, Census output areas or Wards), choose Education, Skills & Training, and then pick Key figures.

For those who just want a league table, here’s the top 20 and bottom 20 (with a few more details than the Telegraph showed like the number of pupils for example) and you can download the full list here and sort it for yourself: download the processed data or get the underlying data from the original source

Bear in mind that there are 326 of these areas.  The Telegraph said the publication was “a move designed to “shine a spotlight” on pockets of underperformance” although pretty much the same data was published in 2011, so presumably that spotlight didn’t work well enough.

Highest 20 districts on 5A*-C including English & Maths

District_Code   District_Name                  Pupils    5A*-CEM      Ebacc  Capped_Pts 
E09000001       City of London                     22      81.8%      27.3%      360.4
E06000053       Isles of Scilly                    21      81.0%      33.3%      363.4
E07000176       Rushcliffe                       1136      80.6%      40.0%      381.2
E07000100       St Albans                        1505      77.9%      49.7%      367.4
E07000005       Chiltern                         1062      76.3%      32.5%      376.0
E07000006       South Bucks                       687      76.0%      40.5%      363.6
E09000006       Bromley                          3252      75.5%      34.4%      363.9
E09000027       Richmond upon Thames             1150      75.5%      50.6%      365.8
E06000041       Wokingham                        1666      74.9%      32.8%      363.2
E07000227       Horsham                          1317      74.2%      31.5%      363.8
E07000208       Epsom and Ewell                   816      74.1%      36.9%      361.4
E07000165       Harrogate                        1664      73.7%      37.6%      364.9
E06000040       Windsor and Maidenhead           1368      73.3%      37.4%      363.4
E07000089       Hart                              966      72.9%      41.0%      360.6
E09000020       Kensington and Chelsea            555      72.8%      34.1%      358.2
E07000124       Ribble Valley                     648      72.5%      33.6%      359.0
E09000003       Barnet                           3300      72.3%      40.2%      364.5
E09000029       Sutton                           2221      72.3%      34.2%      363.3
E07000116       Tunbridge Wells                  1177      72.0%      40.0%      363.4
E07000210       Mole Valley                       839      72.0%      39.3%      359.1

Lowest 20 districts on 5A*-C including English & Maths

District_Code   District_Name                  Pupils    5A*-CEM      Ebacc  Capped_Pts 
E07000226       Crawley                          1258      50.1%      16.1%      328.8
E07000046       Torridge                          675      50.1%      20.3%      318.6
E06000010       Kingston upon Hull, City o       2729      50.0%      13.8%      338.6
E07000092       Rushmoor                          983      49.9%      19.9%      323.1
E07000088       Gosport                           878      49.9%      12.2%      332.3
E07000136       Boston                            701      49.8%      10.6%      329.0
E07000201       Forest Heath                      467      49.5%      16.1%      326.2
E07000062       Hastings                         1044      49.3%      11.9%      324.4
E06000018       Nottingham                       3017      49.1%      13.9%      319.3
E07000101       Stevenage                         999      48.9%      14.8%      327.8
E07000202       Ipswich                          1455      48.8%      17.3%      312.2
E06000046       Isle of Wight                    1476      48.6%      10.1%      304.4
E07000090       Havant                           1315      48.4%      13.9%      324.2
E07000191       West Somerset                     325      48.3%      12.9%      328.1
E06000044       Portsmouth                       1946      48.3%      18.0%      303.6
E06000009       Blackpool                        1709      47.9%      13.5%      332.9
E07000117       Burnley                          1059      47.8%      16.1%      315.7
E07000145       Great Yarmouth                   1177      47.3%      15.3%      319.3
E07000206       Waveney                          1320      47.2%      10.7%      324.2
E07000148       Norwich                          1073      45.0%      15.2%      314.5
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