Like any country, talent is spread evenly, it’s education and opportunity that isn’t – (or not)

rogertitcombe's picture

Former Education Secretary Justine Greening has been speaking at the Sutton Trust.

Former Education Secretary Justine Greening’s powerful words [that form part of the title of this article] at the Carnegie-Sutton Trust Best in Class summit aptly sum up the social mobility landscape Britain faces today.

This is indeed the underlying assumption of not just The Sutton Trust, but the entire ‘Social Mobility’ establishment, which appears to include the Labour opposition as well as the Conservative government. This is made clear by the following Sutton Trust statement.

This event follows our earlier summit in London in 2016 where we raised important questions around teacher development, and how disadvantaged pupils can have fair access to the best schools and the best teachers.

The underlying assumption is that within a competitive education market system, some schools will always be better than others (because that is the nature of markets) and that social mobility requires the manipulation of the market so that the children of poorer families have a better chance of getting into them. But what of the children, rich or poor, that don’t get into the ‘best’ schools? Their life chances will presumably be worse, but no matter, because so long as this disadvantage is equally shared out in some kind of ‘fair lottery of life’, then that provides the best national educational provision that we can hope for.

How different it is in Finland where, according to PISA, educational standards are higher than they are here. According to my national IQ – related analysis, for maths, England is found at 49th place, whereas Finland comes out at 8th.

Finland does much better than England even in the flawed ‘raw’ PISA analysis, so what are they doing right in the land of the midnight sun?

Some of the answers can be found in this video by US journalist Michael Moore.

The following key characteristics emerge from the video.

There is no national system of standardised testing.

 Schools are about enabling their students to find happiness.

 There is an emphasis on personal and cognitive development.

 The best school for every student is always the neighbourhood school.

 There is no competition between schools because all schools strive to be the same.

 There is no private school sector in Finland.

Whenever the Finnish education system is compared with the UK, it is often argued that its apparent superiority arises from the fact that Finland has a more equal society, with much higher levels of social mobility. Is it not more likely that its highly effective education system, in which there is no competition for school places and no role whatever for ‘market forces’, has successfully brought about those very high levels of social mobility that are the root cause of its success?

Let us take another look at Justine Greening’s statement.

 “Like any country, talent is spread evenly – it’s education and opportunity that isn’t”

 What if this too is the wrong way round? What if ‘talent’ is not in fact ‘spread evenly’ at all, but is highly variable in complex patterns? How can we find out? Fortunately, GL Assessment, who market Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs) has done this for us, with the results summarised on p10 of this document.

Hundreds of schools buy expensive CATs from GL Assessment to drive ‘fair banding’ admissions systems. Other schools buy the CATs to screen their Y7 pupils for diagnostic and targeting purposes. If asked, such schools say that the extensive SATs analysis provided for free by the Department for Education is not up to the job. Why should this be?

In many primary schools, especially those threatened by DfE and OfSTED floor targets as a result of a low mean intake cognitive ability, Y6 is primarily devoted to ensuring that the school does not meet the dire fate that results from falling below those floor targets. This means that cognitively developmental teaching (which is what the pupils from poorer backgrounds most need), is abandoned in favour of coaching and cramming, which may actually make their pupils dimmer, while lifting the school over the floor targets, but landing the secondary to which they transfer with inflated SATs scores that produce ‘Attainment 8’ and ‘Progress 8’ targets they cannot meet. Thus is the ‘attainment gap’ created.

When it comes to ‘academic talent’, which Justine Greening believes to be ‘evenly spread’, she must mean cognitive ability/IQ, either gifted through genes, developed through parenting and schooling, or all three. The purest form of cognitive ability/IQ could be regarded as ‘Non-Verbal Reasoning’ (recognition of patterns and relationships) as tested by the third of the Cognitive Ability Tests reported on p10 of the GL Assessment summary. Let us examine how ‘evenly spread’ these ‘talents’ really are in terms of CATs scores, which are reported on the IQ standard scale where the national mean is 100 and the Standard Deviation is 15.

  1. Ethnicity

Highest mean score – 112 (79th percentile)

Lowest mean score –  90 (25th percentile

These are enormous differences. If neighbourhood schools are located in areas where different ethnicities predominate then the effects on the exam performance of equally effective schools that serve them will be massive. England is hugely ethnically diverse, so the idea that associated cognitive ability patterns are ‘evenly spread’ across the country is plainly nonsense. A close study of the mean ethnic cognitive ability differences reveals a complex pattern that provides no succour to racists, because mixed race children tend to have significantly higher mean cognitive abilities. There appears to be a ‘hybrid vigour’ effect from maximising gene mixing along with no evidence of disadvantage from the resulting cultural diversity. Bilingualism in children is an established cognitive as well as cultural advantage.

  1. Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) 

1 Standard Deviation above mean – 104 (61st percentile)

1 Standard Deviation below mean – 97 (42nd percentile)

These too are large differences. It has long been well established that the children of more highly educated parents do better at school and the converse. More cognitively able parents tend to have better paid jobs and live in areas of more expensive housing. It should not be surprising that they tend to pass on these advantages to their children through genetic and cultural mechanisms.

  1. Entitlement to Free School Meals (FSM) 

Not entitled mean score – 102 (55th percentile)

Entitled mean score – 94 (34th percentile)

These data confirm the previous pattern.

The key, unavoidable conclusion is that we are a diverse nation in all manner of ways that include mean cognitive abilities related to both ethnicity and affluence. The assumption of the ‘social mobility’ establishment, that variations in educational outcomes are the consequence of differential access of a cognitively uniform population to ‘good schools’ is not supported by the evidence.

The truth is that ‘good and outstanding schools’, as defined by DfE performance measures echoed by OfSTED inspectors who really should know better, are overwhelmingly those that can attract sub-groups of pupils with higher cognitive abilities. Every secondary head knows this, but the scope for LA community schools to do anything about it is now very limited. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) knew this and the best of them manipulated catchment areas to provide cognitively ‘balanced’ intakes, which had the additional benefit of at the same time producing cultural diversity. Academy and religious schools can design their own admissions policies that can free them from any competitive disadvantages of being primarily neighbourhood schools.

Some such Academy admissions arrangements, like ‘fair banding’, are both reasonable and educationally desirable. Others are manipulative, devious and dishonest. I know of an urban Academy school whose admissions policy was based not on proximity to the Academy, but negatively, on proximity to a neighbouring LA school serving a poorer neighbourhood. If two pupils lived equal distances from, but on opposite sides of the Academy school, pupil A, living in an affluent neighbourhood, and pupil B living in a deprived neighbourhood, pupil A could gain admission over pupil B even though she lived further from the Academy than pupil B. This is because pupil B could have lived closer to the neighbouring LA school than to the Academy. This admissions device was not enough to save the Academy from ‘Special Measures’, while condemning the LA school to the same fate, which was then itself forced to become an Academy.

The greatest threat to social mobility is not allegedly poor secondary schools, but the imposition for ideological reasons of a marketised education system that corrupts teaching methods through the ignorance of politicians and Academy bosses that favour ‘behaviourist’ over ‘developmental’ approaches to teaching and learning while politicians, the media and the public misunderstand the real reasons for the differences in aggregated exam results between secondary schools, which do not validly measure the quality of education provided by the schools.

What is even more shocking is that I am not able to freely make this entirely rational, evidence-backed case, because of a taboo about mentioning cognitive ability or general intelligence. The Guardian newspaper deletes any such comments on its education articles and the NUT website, ‘Reclaiming Schools’, does the same. I live close to a shipbuilding town. It is as if the design office was forbidden from taking account of the Principle of Archimedes. John Mountford and others discuss the IQ taboo here.

I will conclude by anticipating some misunderstandings (deliberate or otherwise) that might arise from this article.

  1. I am not suggesting that intelligence is immutable, whether arising from nature, nurture, or most likely, both. Part 5 of my book ‘Learning Matters’ describes many developmental approaches to teaching and learning that enhance cognitive development. More can be found here and here.

Cognitive ability can however be inhibited by bad approaches to teaching and learning. Unfortunately these are often the very approaches feted by the government and rewarded by OfSTED. They inevitably arise from the perverse incentives that flow from a marketised education system.

  1. It is well established that East Asian ethnic groups have high national IQs. The GL Assessment figure of 112 is the same as that widely measured in many other studies. The mistake is to look at the PISA studies where East Asian countries score highest and conclude that this high IQ is conferred by their excellent education systems. There are two problems with this. The first is that East Asian children born in the US and UK that pass through the deeply flawed education systems of these countries still record the same high cognitive ability/IQ scores and are massively over-represented in the top universities of both countries and elsewhere in the world.
  1. The second problem is that the education systems in these East Asian countries are in fact poor, worse even than ours. This is revealed in my IQ mediated analysis.

This study is the basis of one of the most widely read articles on my website, with the number of visits increasing by the week from all over the world. It has been validated and endorsed by international academics of the highest standing. It has been widely circulated and so far no challenge to the methodology has been received.

  1. How do national/ethnic IQ differences arise? There is no need to resort to theories of ancient racial superiority. Culture can play a role, but not through the false Lamarckian theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Cultural memes can get into your descendant’s genes through sexual selection in relatively few generations. This article provides a possible explanation.

To conclude, cognitive ability data show that the Sutton Trust and Justine Greening have got social mobility all wrong. The north/south attainment gap disappears when cognitive ability differences are taken into account. Failure to do this is resulting in the impoverishment of the curriculum of primary schools and invalid judgements of secondaries.

The victims are children of all abilities that are denied the rich, developmental, inspirational state schooling that should be a human right, all sacrificed on the altar of free market ideology.

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Brian's picture
Fri, 04/05/2018 - 09:24

Excellent article. Pity its fundamental concepts will come up against the fundamentalist simplicity of Nick Gibb.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 04/05/2018 - 14:32

Roger's question about schools who buy CATs "to screen their Y7 pupils for diagnostic and targeting purposes. If asked, such schools say that the extensive SATs analysis provided for free by the Department for Education is not up to the job. Why should this be?" is something I am asking of my MP. In my small local authority with just thirteen secondaries, nine use CATs for the purpose of challenging SATs data where they are deemed unfit. In communication with one head, I was told the results are "unreliable" in setting Progress and Attainment 8. Obviously something deemed important but not shared with parents.

With regret, I have to conclude the profession is failing our children and young people by not bringing this information into the open. Like Roger and Brian, I know one of the key reasons this is not happening is an unwillingness to address the IQ question in education for ideological reasons. Roger and I are looking into the relationship between CATs and SATs. Recently, when I initially approached a leading university engaged in major education research with organisations like EEF, I received a VERY positive response, offering support in processing data etc. Once the detailed brief was submitted and it became clear we were looking into IQ in relation to perceived underachievement, social mobility issues, etc, the plug was pulled. No explanations. No attempt to engage in a dialogue. We were clearly inviting them to travel where they were uncomfortable to go.

So here we have it. Essentially, CATs help schools do their target setting better; SO important in DfE/Ofsted's eyes. These data present them with a picture of G (general intelligence) in a manner that SATs data does not and cannot. Its seems, therefore, fine to suspend judgement about this subject when it suits. In the name of addressing the real underlying myth about perceived underachievement (enter The Sutton Trust and others), it is simply taboo and cannot be explored without courage for fear of isolation and paranoia. How are we to go forward??

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