Tuesday, 31 May 2011

More on those Welsh GCSE results

Over the weekend I discovered that BBC Wales had also acquired the data for the average spend per pupil for each Local Authority — which, following on from my last post, means it is possible to see what effect increased or decreased education spending had on actual GCSE results in each Welsh county (the updated rankings with average spend is here). The results are very interesting:

GCSE results compared to Average spend per pupil
(click to enlarge)

As the above chart shows, outside the clump in the centre, there appears to be very little correlation between increased spending and better GCSE results. The county which achieved the highest average GCSE results (Vale of Glamorgan) actually spent the least (£5,001 per pupil), whereas one of the highest spending counties (Blaenau Gwent) achieved some of the poorest general results. Clearly there is a great deal of difference between the general prosperity of those two particular counties, which led me to plot the results versus the average percentage uptake of free school meals in each county:

GCSE results compared to uptake of Free School Dinners
(click to enlarge)

This chart shows a very clear negative correlation between the 2010 GCSE results and the uptake of Free School Meals. As Free School Meals are offered to children from low income families, it is therefore no surprise that these GCSE results also correlate to the total out of work claimant rate in each county too:

GCSE results compared to total out-of-work benefit claimants
(Click to enlarge)

Of course it has long been accepted that academic performance is a function of relative prosperity therefore these results are not surprising, but it is informative to test the actual Welsh GCSE results in this way. If you are so inclined you can see how the Welsh GCSE results correlate to several other factors here.

So what does this mean?

  • A lack of correlation between spend and academic performance seems to suggest that as long as education spending is above a certain threshold, additional spending will not necessarily yield better results.
  • The clear negative correlation between prosperity and results indicates that unless something is done to break this link, it could lead to a downward spiral of ever poorer educational attainment linked to ever decreasing prosperity levels (education levels being one of the major functions of economic performance).

So what can be done? As I suggested in my previous post, clearly radical changes are needed to our education system in Wales if we are to break the link between prosperity and school performance. As not all children are academically minded, my personal preference would be to stream pupils earlier into either academic or vocational schools as per the German model. It is pointless to enforce an academic one-size-fits-all approach when clearly not all children have an equal aptitude for academic subjects — in fact this turns the more vocationally-minded children off school altogether, meaning they can't wait to leave school at 16 rather than move on to doing vocational courses.

Education is of critical importance to Wales if we want to turn around our economic prospects. Will this new Assembly show any boldness in its policy making? I for one will not be holding my breath.


Anonymous said...

I'll tell you how free school meals affects children. They obviously come from he poorer households and as a result there's usually no computer at home. Their parents can't afford little extras like school trips. Nor can they afford the recent appearance of 'proms' ( an american farce which should be banned) and it's things like that that chip away at the child's overall confidence because it starts to develop an inferiority complex.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

Anonymous is quite right, what we need to do is to reduce the inequalities in society and we won't do that by cutting benefits which is what the Druid's party is doing.

Prometheuswrites said...

There's a systemic problem in the Education sector.

As long as the means of monitoring educational progress (tests and examinations) is also the means by which outcomes/results are measured, then the profession will attempt to satisfy the monitoring measures rather than satisfy students' requirements.

Schools will want to score highly on league tables (whether we officially have them or not) as opposed to providing the educational and employment training needs of the students.

Of course we can have both (monitoring and results) but the means of measuring these should be seperated - it's the problem with having 'targets' as they inevitably distort educational practices to demonstrate teaching achievements in hitting targets; quite different to providing an education that suits the socio-economic context of the students.

(BTW 'education' is not the same as 'training for employment' - the higher rungs of the civil service have traditionally employed graduates with Philosophy and Classics degrees - neither of which can be said to be directly vocational in nature)

The needs of Anglesey students may be quite different to Glamorgan students, but the means of measuring this is the same; - though the 'value added' weighting is supposed to address this aspect - I'm just not convinced it does.

The issue of headmasters saying the new primary tests 'are not fit for purpose' as opposed to the politicians assertion that they are, is just another example of the 'political vs professional' divide where things are done for political reasons and the politicians don't listen to good advice from those who actually deliver the services - this happens in medical, financial, military and legal services as well.

It's part of what we now call 'broken government' or in Wales 'lethargic government':


"Alun Ffred Jones criticises Welsh Assembly 'lethargy'"

"... the committees are a lifeblood in a sense, because we can set up all sorts of inquiries and we scrutinise the government's work."

- or not.

Anonymous said...

those on free school meals are entitled to go on trips for FREE, yes free! This includes skiing trips.

So where the middle income families are thinking 'hmmmm can I afford it'. The other kids are jumping on these trips without no care in the world.

I am all for contributing to the trips, but free is too much.

Anonymous said...

The freeloaders who contribute nothing to the Education budget have no shame at all, if the children are freeloaders then it's guaranteed that the Parents even the Grandparents have the same idealogy, they will never change. It's our own fault for encouraging a society of freeloaders taht take everything, and even encourage their chikdren to live like that. In my schooldays it would be embarassing to receive free school meals, at the time the service was provided to at least meet the minimum needs of a child in school, a hot meal in the stomach, even if that child went home and had no tea. In today's society, children of freeloaders are actively encouraged to moan and complain if they done't receive their requirement of freebies from the school. It maybe an idea to send the freeloading parents a statement of costs of how much the freeloading costs each child.

school lunch 5 days x 8 weeks = 40 Lunches at £ 3.00 a day = £ 120.
This amount could be deducted from their benefits, instead of them spending it on sky telly, holidays abroad and chinese suppers on a weekend.

Anonymous said...

News Flash

Japanese Pensioners are preparing to tackle the Fukushima Reactor leak, they want to do their bit to stop and make good the reactor. The pensioners have had their lives and are willing to sacrifice themselves to do what they can to repair the reactor.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:27 is bang on about proms being a farce, though I'm no way anti-American (ex-gf is from there, but we're still friends though)

Perhaps not exactly a 'prom', but one Anglesey school I'm aware of held a ball/party for year 11 (form 5 for us oldies!) at a particularly well-known and classy Anglesey establishment recently.

I'm really glad that priority is given to this expense in this time of budget cuts over the mundane aspect of trying to reduce staff job losses!

Richard Sletzer said...

How much better educational standards in Anglesey would have been had the county council not abolished its much-missed grammar schools . Angelsey, of course become the first local authority to adopt the Labour "levelling-down" concept of Comprehensive Education with its dumbed-down "all must have prizes" mentality. ......50 years on the results are there for all to see: a utter disaster and a terrible betrayal of the young people of Anglesey.

This is this politically-inflicted social engineering which remains at the root of Anglesey's poverty and dismal economic performance.

Grammar schools had nothing to do with income or social standing but they did open horizons of opportunity for poor and middle-class children alike.Now Anglesey's able children have nowhere to go but the island's awful bog-standard comprehensives where any ability, ambition and aspiriation they may have had will be bullied out of them until they conform to the acceptable socialist sub-standard norm.

the outsider said...

I cannot speak for the comprehensive schools on Anglesey, however having attended both an excellent grammar and an excellent comprehensive school, I think both systems can offer children the very best learning experiences. What is more important than the system is the quality of the teachers, from the head down, and the range of subjects available to pupils. There is no problem with streaming children according to academic ability. Comprehensives can do this and as pupils have not been separated out at age 11 into 'academic' and 'other!' then they can move up or down according to their actual performance.
This is the nub of the question, is it right to separate children into academic and non-academic schools at 11 years of age?

I do not think it is right because children develop at different rates and I believe that children from poorer backgrounds may often only show their academic ability after they move into secondary school.

This is simply because they will probably not have had the same level of help and stimulus from their parents as children from wealthier families.

However it is essential that large numbers of potentially bright children are not offered a less academic education than they can make good use of. We will need every good idea that the upcoming generation can provide if we are to compete with the rest of the world.

Good Comprehensive schools would allow pupils to progress up the 'streams' if they are a bit late showing their full potential. Equally they would not stigmatise pupils who show early promise but then don't do as well as expected.

Prometheuswrites said...

Outsider: Once again I find myself in full agreement with your post.

Re: Politics vs. Professionalism

"Anglesey County Council is continuing to ignore the concerns of teachers at Ysgol Goronwy Owen, Benllech, says UCAC education union."


Of course with no councillors as portfolio holders the new Commissioners' Regime can only hold their own staff or themselves responsible as this situation develops.

"... the County Council did not consult in any way with the teachers concerned. This contradicts a publicly-made promise that the Council would enter into further dialogue with UCAC".

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Prometheuswrites said...

Welsh Icons post:
The article goes on to say:

"... “This is yet another example of the County Council totally ignoring the concerns of the teachers. We are still waiting for a response from the Council to our correspondence, including a letter from our lawyers, calling for an appropriate solution to the problem. The situation is extremely frustrating and shows a lack of respect for the teachers.”

“The teachers are worried about the wellbeing of the children, and the situation is putting them under serious strain. Five of the schools six teachers are on sick leave at the moment.”
Dilwyn Jones. Dep Gen Sec. UCAC.

Anonymous said...

What does 'average spend per pupil' mean exactly ?
Is this money actually spent on the child's education ?

Let us discuss three areas for example.

1. Rural authorities, spend a great deal of money on school transport, and on heating and maintaining small rural, usually Victorian, school buildings. Does this money spent really count as going towards education?

2. Authorities with a high percentage of 'older' teachers and other staff, pay much more in salaries, than those authorities with 'younger' members of staff. In terms of spending,it really does make a big difference if a child is taught by a 22 year old, or, a 50 year old teacher.

3. Schools which have been built with PFI schemes, again, spend huge sums on expensive payments to building firms. None of this goes towards a child's education.

Conclusion - It is very difficult to work out what sums of money are actually spent on educating youngsters. Your research I'm afraid is therefore superficial, and thus flawed, and does not really tell us anything of value.
You really need to go beyond these raw figures, and analyse what 'spending' really means in terms of a childs's education.

Druid - marks out of 10. 5/10 C-.
Must try harder.

Anonymous said...

Anon 31 May 2011 15:00

I can assure you they don't go on trips for free. I can assure you that their parent(s) are expected to stump-up for entry to Beaumaris Castle, the cost of trips to Chester Zoo, educational trips top the Blue Planet in Ellesmere Port etc etc.

Prometheuswrites said...

This animation lasts 10 minutes. It packs in an understanding of what has happened to our education system during the last 30 years:


'RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms'

Photon said...

But isn't all this data plotting rather partial? It seems to me that one cannot judge how well any pupil actually did until many years later.

How many of us didn't excel at GCSE level yet then went on to gain a degree, professional qualification or success in some other form?

Indeed, even according to David Cameron (who of course is a millionaire+), says that economic success is not the only route to wellbeing.

Data plotting is a very middle-England, worried well thing to do, leading to the ridiculous house-moving, inter-parent competition that is rife across the border.

With the far east on the ascendant, why not plot language skills against the rest of the world's schools and discover - once again - that the UK education system is ensuring our kids are bottom of the pile.

Anonymous said...

again, slightly off-topic but relevant.

Some authorities actually impose cuts to the education budget themselves. So if WAG impose, say a 5% cut, and the authority decide to impose, say a 2% cut, then the overall cut is 6.9% (near as darn-it 7%)

I'm cynical the general public understand this.

richard sletzer said...

So why isn't there more indigenous enterprise and why aren't there more local entrepreneurs in Anglesey? It all, alas, comes back to education - in the broadest sense.

Most of the population of Anglesey suffers from the immense handicap of having being educated in Anglesey's comprehensive schools.They're compulsorily taught Welsh when they can barely read or spell in English.
In these awful schools pupils are indoctrinated with a prevailing socialist/liberal value-system emanating from Britain's neo-Marxist teacher-training colleges.
Pupils are not taught self reliance, the importance of standing on their own feet and how to handle competition. Instead they are taught that the state will provide. They are told that business is bad , that enterprise is evil and selfish, that it's a sin to make money and it's big-headed and wrong to have ambition.
They are taught to despise and bully clever pupils who show ability - and make them conform.
They are told - as they leave school to go on the dole - that unemployment is always somebody else's fault, never their own.

What's left are generations of empty, poorly-educated pupils who seriously think footballers and pop-singers are role-models.

Until this prevailing educational culture is totally overhauled - the people of Anglesey will never be free of the socialist curse which is doing them so much damage.

Anonymous said...

The unadjusted actual grades are the only true guide.

It appears the Welsh Examiners are more lenient and this is probably due to them not marking papers from all over Britain which would force down the results.

In other words, their marking standards are too low.

;) said...

@ R Sletzer:

Guess you didn't take the 10 minutes to watch promo's link eh?

Now please explain in words that a 10 year would understand exactly what is being taught in these teacher training colleges that makes them 'neo-marxist'.

So it's leftie schools teachi9ng the kids to be celebrity chasing fashionista airheads - that'd be nothing to do with the media, capitalist corporate profiteering and brainwashing of the young (If advertising doesn't 'indoctrinate' the why do all those profit greedy corps spend so much on it?).

And if you don't what being siad here just go and look in the girls toys section of the Argos catalogue - ever wondered why girls want tp wear pink, push prams and cook their gun totting brothers dinner while wearing a nursey uniform?

Richard Sletzer said...

Hello ;)

Yes I did watch Promo's link - cleverly made ,but in reality just another pseudo-avantgarde bit of educational theorising.
We've all had enough of this sort of nonsense - let's stick the knitting and start educating Angelsey's children properly.

As for leftie brainwashing - well they've certainly brainwashed you!

Anonymous said...

I have to echo what a previous poster said; It's not that simple.
He was wrong in suggesting that spend per pupil is related to travel costs; school travel is not part of Delegated school Budgets.

However rurality does play a part in costs in a different way; small schools in rural locations with half full classes are not cost effective. It costs £42,000 to teach a class with 10 pupils in staff wages, it costs the same amount to teach a class with 25 pupils.
A high proportion of costs delegated to schools is maintenance and cleaning costs and grounds upkeep. If a school is 90% full then these costs are relatively low; if a school is 50% empty then these costs are high.
A moments thought should tell you that areas with dense clusters of population or expanding population will be cost efficient in this respect.
Another area of contention is the dreaded "Welsh Language" factor; we are all familiar with the difficulty in closing schools with only 20 pupils and huge costs (no teacher can work alone and so even 20 pupils demand two staff). There is always well organised opposition to closing Welsh Medium schools throughout Wales; it is politically difficult to do.
Even Secondary schools are subject to huge innefficiencies once the "Welsh Medium" factor comes into operation. Take Gwynedd for instance; one secondary, Tywyn, has 53% empty spaces. Only two out of fourteen schools is reasonably full. But look at what happens in Bangor; Ysgol Tryfan is a strict Welsh Medium school, teaching exclusively through the medium of Welsh. It has 429 pupils (2009)and is 32% empty.
100 metres away is Ysgol Friars. It teaches mostly through the medium of English. It is the most popular school in Gwynedd and has 1,254 pupils and 8% empty places. The "Welsh Medium factor" means that there can be no rationalisation between these schools. Friars has the lowest per pupil costs in Gwynedd.
In Anglesey the same situation exists between Bodedern (mostly Welsh Medium) and Caergybi (mostly English medium.) Everyone knows that only one school is needed in this area; no one can grasp the nettle.

When you look at other areas of Wales you can see the huge costs that come from two streams of education running in parallel. Cardiff undertakes to provide Welsh Medium Primary or starter schools on demand. As a result it has four WM schools with fewer than 20 pupils side by side with EM schools which are up to 100 places under capacity. To add insult to financial injury each Welsh Medium Micro school gets £21,000 every year to buy an extra half teacher. As small schools they get another £32,000 in small school supplement. One WM starter school is housed within the building of an EM school (Gabalfa) it has 8 pupils. Four or five Welsh Medium schools in Cardiff cost over £10,000 per pupil per year. How do they spend it all?

Wales cannot educate efficiently; it never will. The Welsh speaking lobby is too strong and too wealthy (WM secondary schools have 10% on Free school Meals, English Medium have 20% on Free school meals on average)

Wales has created an elite which will never allow equality of educational opportunity for the non-Welsh speaking masses.

Anonymous said...

Anon 09:41, but what about the other 3 Anglesey secondaries?

David Hughes and Llangefni are WM, yet I'd hardly call them empty! I'd hardly even call Bodedern empty.

Prometheuswrites said...

Off Topic:

A positive North Wales news story:


'Pant Du vineyard in Gwynedd produces its first red wine'

The Red Flag said...

Anon 3 June 2011 10:26 - The reason they don't mention David Hughes and Llangefni is because it blows holes in the argument they are making and makes a mockery of it. So they ignore them.

Prometheuswrites said...

I've read in H&A mail the following:

"Schools have been ranked by their ‘Value Added Score’, which rates whether each pupil's GCSE results are better or worse than what was predicted of them at the age of 11."


This is a perfect example of putting the cart before the horse as the VAS score mark is primarily dependent on how well the person/people making the initial assessment of expectations does and doesn't really tell us anything about the standard of education or how well the school has performed.

Want to make your school top of the VAS table? - easy - when the assessor comes round make sure the staff do the opposite of the teaching assessment by the inspectors and give the impression of low achieving students in an educationally impoverished environment; then when the exams come round while the students do averagely in their results the school gets a great VAS - Hey Presto, you've improved your school at a stroke without having to improve teaching practice, pupil behaviour, educational support, etc. - as all that's being scored how far off the assessor was with their prediction.

So for Holyhead secondary all we can really conclude is the person(s) doing the assessment 'must do better' - (a 'perfect' score after all is 0.0)

I suspect that the WG are in favour of extending this predictive approach to primary schools if the headteachers' 'thumbs down' is anything to go by.

How soon before some bright spark at the WG decides to score the education system on predictions made at birth based on the social mobility, job history and genetic dispositions of the parents?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:26 and Red Flag. You have misunderstood the point; it is not whether the schools mentioned are popular or not...most schools including llangefni and Menai bridge are dependent on birth rate in their catchment area.

The point is that in any area where all schools are the same medium then amalgamation or rationalisation is easy. If a system is put in place where one school caters for English Medium and another for Welsh medium then rationalisation becomes impossible.

Across Wales Welsh medium secondary schools have on average 743 pupils and English medium schools have on average 974 pupils.

There isn't and never will be a rationalisation of school places between the two groups. This is why Wales' education system is expensive without being effective.

Prometheuswrites said...


"Oxford University academics have delivered a crushing vote of no confidence in Universities Minister David Willetts, by 283 votes to five."

"Professor Gildea warned the changes would turn the university system into a "red carpet for the rich" which would take Oxford "back to Brideshead".

The warden of St Antony's College, Margaret MacMillan, warned that the budget cuts would force universities to fill more places with overseas students.

"We don't want to end up as a finishing school for rich students from around the world," said Professor MacMillan and she attacked a higher education policy being "made up on the fly", which made it difficult for universities to plan.

Prometheuswrites said...


"Ofsted inspectors attack business courses"

"Inspectors found some lessons focused too much on completing "narrow written assignments" that gave students little opportunity to debate issues, extend their thinking and develop a broader understanding and skills in the subject.

Despite students achieving good results, the quality of their work was weak, they said".

To paraphrase an old saying: 'Never mind the width, where's the quality?'

Prometheuswrites said...

And a sensible positive local educational initiative:


"Head teachers in Gwynedd are being asked to look at ways of encouraging more use of the Welsh language by primary pupils outside the classroom.

Using Welsh in everyday settings, from the playground to the workplace, is seen as important to its survival."