Playing the SENCO Game…

According to the latest Department for Education data, the number of pupils receiving extra time in exams in England and Wales has increased by 35.8% since 2013/14.

However, at the same time there has been a 20.4% decrease in pupils identified as having Special Education Needs.

This represents a real terms 4 year increase of 51.2% of pupils receiving extra time, relative to those pupils identified as SEN (which should give us an indication of the underlying ‘pool’ of pupils who are potentially eligible for extra time.

Here’s the statistics (full sources below)

SEN pupils

So what’s going on here? How do we explain this?

This Telegraph article points to the fact that a disproportionate amount of the increase in pupils receiving extra time is driven by kids (or rather parents) in Independent schools…they are twice as likely to receive extra time as kids in state funded schools.

This alone has to push you towards a combination of cultural capital theory and labelling theory in explaining what’s going on here – it’s extremely unlikely that kids in Independent schools have objectively (i.e. really) suddenly become more in need of extra time, relative to kids in state schools – and as the article alludes to, it’s probably down to middle class parents getting their kids assessed for extra time (and maybe those kids gaming the system?)

NB – the number of kids in state schools receiving extra time in exams has also increased, but not as fast as those in independent schools. (Might be interesting to subject this to regional analysis to see if it’s linked to income?)

VERY INTERESTINGLY, if you dig into the Access Arrangements data below, this aspect of the data doesn’t exist from the DFES (I assume it did once, otherwise said article wouldn’t have been written)

As to the increasing number of kids receiving extra time AT THE SAME TIME AS A DECREASE IN KIDS WITH SEN – this might reflect a polarisation – i.e. objectively there are fewer kids with ‘more serious’ SEN that require such exam concessions, but overall there are fewer kids with any SEN…

HOWEVER, once you dig even deeper into the stats below, what do you find…

Statemented kids are on the increase within state funded schools (where you get Pupil Premium for taking on statemented kids), while non statemented SEN kids are on the decrease (which you don’t get funding for, but you have to spend school resources on to keep OFSTED happy)

Compared to Independent schools – Statemented kids are on the decrease, while non-statemented kids are on the increase – and how do we explain the difference – these schools don’t get extra money for taking on statemented SEN kids like state schools, while they can get their kids extra time by doing their own ‘in-house’ SEN assessment.

NB – this is only one possible interpretation, and I’m prepared to stand corrected if anyone wants to pull me up on my less than perfect understanding of SEN funding and access arrangement policy!

Sources of Data

SEN data

Access Arrangements

Telegraph Article


Problems with the fusion of  big data and education

The first problem is that it will be more difficult for us to forget and escape our past….

While we as individuals grow, evolve and change, comprehensive educational data collected through the years remains unchanged – there is a problem that as the amount of data collected on us through our formative years, we might be judged in the future by this historic data – creating a kind of ‘permanence of the past’.

Our historic data record might show a future employer that we were enrolled in a remedial math class in our first year of university, and this fact alone might put them off calling us for interview, even if our maths has evolved in the intervening years, which means we might get credit for how we have evolved in our later years.

The problem with data is that it is unlikely to tell anyone about the context in which it takes place – if test scores are low during particular years, for example, the data alone is unlikely to tell us what was going on more broadly in our lives at that time – unlike today, when we can effectively forget low-periods in our lives, in the forthcoming age of big data, they will always be on display for anyone to scrutinise, without access to the more in-depth context.

Employers already track Facebook posts, if there is more educational data, then they might well delve into that too.

A second problem is that our big data record might fix our future…

Today schools make predictions based on ‘small data’, yet students can argue against the paths suggested by such small data (GCSEs etc) because it is precisely that, small, collected at only a few points in time, clearly not telling the whole story.

In the Big data age, however, predictions based on more data may become so accurate that they lock students into educational tiers of particular programmes of study – some universities are already experimenting with ‘e-advisors’ – since the University of Arizona implemented such a system in 2007, the proportion of students moving on from one year to the next has increased from 77% to 84%…. In future these systems may evolve to advise, or prevent, students from undertaking particular courses of study deemed to be too difficult for them.

This may lock-in students to pre-determined study and career paths, which may have a detrimental effect on equality of opportunity.

A third problem, largely dismissed by Cukier, is that the fusion between big data and educational institutions will only work if students and parents consent to tech companies having access to their children’s private data. For some reason he cannot see the problems with this, which suggests more than anything else he’s an industry-insider.

School Types in England and Wales – Statistical Overview…

As of 2017, there were over 250 000 children in ‘Converter Academies’, 86, 000 students in sponsored academies, and 170 000 students in LEA maintained schools. This that in 2017 there were twice as many students in converter and sponsored academies combined as there are in LEA funded mainstream schools….

Number Pupils Schools Academies

Free Schools, meanwhile, cater to only just over 3000 students, with studio schools the least popular type of school, with only 1200 students.

Click on the link above, for the (slightly lame) interactive version… NB this is me still trying to get my head around Tableau!


Kahoot for teaching A-level sociology

Kahoot is an online quizzing platform which allows teachers to create multiple choice quizzes which can be played in-class by students, who access the quiz on a mobile device.

Students need to go to and need a pin (unique to each quiz, and only available once the teacher makes the quiz live) to enter…

There are a few different ‘game’ options (there’s a matching/ ordering version) for example, but here I’m focusing just on the ‘classic’ Kahoot….

How Kahoot works…

NB – I recommend you go check it out for yourself, nothing like practice to get your head around it! (If, of course, you think it’s worth the time investment…)

Questions are projected up like this

Before the screen below just the question appears, for a set amount of time (I like to set this at 10 seconds) – this is thinking time!

And students see the coloured options on their phones like this..

They simply tap the option they think is correct.

Students get points for correct answers and for how quickly they answered, and their ranked at the end of each question in a leader board, and yes of course, there’s an overall winner after all the questions have been answered…

I like to set up a Kahoot with 15-20 questions, which is ENOUGH! Although I’ve seen some with dozens of questions.

You might also like to read the following two posts to see how Kahoot compares to…

What I like about Kahoot

  • Christmas in coming, and I don’t know about you, but if it’s a toss up between starting ‘experiments in research methods’ or playing Kahoot on that slack last day of term… well let’s just say Milgram can wait until January!
  • It’s possibly the most fun you’ll have in class in all year…
  • The background  ‘data entry’ side of Kahoot is very easy to use – it’s basically the same as for Quizlet, and, as with Quizlet, you can duplicate, modify and repurpose other people’s work.

What I don’t like about Kahoot…

  • Oh how the children lold all term, yet oh how they wailed when they came to their exams and realised they had no clue WTF analysis was.
  • Unlike Quizlet, you don’t end up with nice Flashcards which the students can use to review knowledge, and the quizzes aren’t available offline afterwards. IMO Quizlet is far better a time investment for A level sociology teachers.
  • It actually has quite a discouraging effect on those in the bottom half of the leader board!

Sociology Teaching Resources for Sale

You might be interested in my latest (November 2019) teaching resource pack which contains everything teachers need to deliver 10 hour long ‘introduction to sociology’ lessons.

sociology teaching resourcesIncluded in the bundle is a clearly structured 50 page gapped student work-pack, six PowerPoints* to structure the 10 lessons, 10 detailed lesson plans outlining a range of learning activities you can use with students, a massive list of relevant contemporary resources with links, and numerous lesson activities including introductions, plenaries and links to some Socrative quizzes.

These resources contain all the core sociology knowledge students need for a through introduction sociology, illustrated with numerous up to date contemporary case studies and statistics.

The resources have been designed for A-level sociology and cover the core themes on the AQA’s specification but are suitable for new 16-19 students studying any specification.

You might also like these teaching resources for the sociology of education. They are specifically designed for A-level sociology students and consist of several versions of key concepts definitions (80 concepts in total), gapped summary grids with answers covering the entire sociology of education specification and 7 analysis activities.

If you want to get both of the above resources and receive regular updates of teaching resources then you can subscribe for £9.99 a month. I’ll be producing 10 hour long lessons worth of resources every month throughout 2020 and beyond. The £9.99 subscription means you get the resources for 50% off the usual £19.99 price.

Assess the view that western models of education are not appropriate to developing countries (20)

Overview plan

  1. What are Western Models of Education?
  2. What are the arguments and evidence for western models being appropriate to developing countries?
  3. What are the arguments and evidence against/ what other models might be appropriate?
  4. Conclusion – when might Western models be appropriate/ when not?

This is a possible 20 mark essay which might come up on the AQA’s A-level sociology (7192/2) topics in sociology paper. Below is my extend plan. You might like to read this post on education and international development first, most of the material below is based on this.

Extended plan

1. What are Western Models of Education?

  • Free state education for all, funded by tax payer
  • Functions – apply Functionalism – crucial link to work and economy
  • Expensive, requires tax base, trained professionals
  • Industrial model/ factory model
  • National curriculums, standardised testing (downsides)

2. What are the arguments and evidence for western models being appropriate to developing countries?

  • Mainly modernisation theory – link to breaking traditional values
  • There is a correlation between education and economic growth.
  • Would anyone disagree with the idea that teaching kids to read/ keeping them out of work is a good idea? Near universal agreement.
  • Western companies are involved in running education systems in developing countries (linked to neoliberalism)

3. What are the arguments and evidence against western education being appropriate/ what other models might more appropriate?

  • Dependency theory argues western education is simply part of the colonial project – a ‘reward’ for the natives who obey the colonisers.
  • Western education focuses too much on Western history, it’s ethnocentric, and erases diverse voices (Galeano)
  • Bare Foot Education (people centred development) might be more appropriate – local education systems run by local people to meet local needs (focussing on agricultural technology, women’s empowerment for example).
  • Most obvious reasons ‘Western education’ might not work are due to numerous barriers to education – e.g. poorer countries cannot afford the teachers, rural populations are too dispersed.
  • Building on point d above, two of the biggest barriers are groups such as Boko Haram who prevent girls from getting an education.
  • Neoliberals and others suggest we can educate effectively in poor countries without the need for massive state sectors like in the west (through online learning, e.g. the hole in the wall experiment).

4. Conclusion – when might Western models be appropriate/ when not?

  • In principle the western idea of funding education for children for 11 years is hard to argue against
  • However, there are problems with many aspects of the western education system – top-down national curriculums for example, and the focus on too much testing, and the sheer expense.
  • Also, there are massive barriers to rolling out western style education systems in developing countries which would make massive state education difficult to maintain.
  • So in conclusion I’d say the most effective way to implement and improve education in poorer countries is to adopt some but not all aspects of western models – maybe having the state and aid money guarantee teacher training and reading programmes, combined with a more ground-up people centred development approach to make sure local people are included in shaping specific aspects of education to meet their local needs.


Will E-learning Platforms change Education?

Big data enthusiasts argue that the greater data collection and analysis potential provided by e-learning platforms such as Khan Academy and Udacity provide much more immediate feedback to students about how they learn, and they thus predict a future in which schools and private data companies will work together in a new educational ecosystem…

This is a continuation of my summary of  Meyer-Schonberger and Cukier’s in their (2017) ‘Big Data: The Essential Guide to Work, Life and Learning in the Age of Insight.

You might like to read this previous post first – How will Big Data Change Education? (according to the above authors).

The advantages of e-learning platforms over traditional education

Khan Academy is well-known for its online videos, but just as important to its success is the software which collects data about how students learn, as well as what they are learning.

To date, Khan Academy has data on over a billion completed exercises, which includes information on not only what videos students watch and what tests scores they achieve, but also on the length and number of times they engage with each aspect of the course, and the time of day they did their work. This enables data analysts to deduce (probabilistically) how students learn most effectively, and to provide feedback as to how they might improve their learning.

The Kahn Academy is just one online learning platform, along with a whole range of MOOCs offered through Udacity, Coursera and edX, as well as SPOOCs (small, private online courses) which are collecting huge volumes of data on student learning. The volume of data is unprecedented in human history, and Cukier suggests that this could change the whole ecosystem of learning, incorporating third parties who do the data analysis and with the role of instructors (‘teachers’) changing providing advice on which learning pathways students should adopt.

At least some of the Khan Academy Data on learning is available to third parties to analyse for free, and information personal to students is presented to them in the form a dashboard, which allows for real-time feedback to take place.

Cukier contrasts the above, emerging ecosystem of online learning, to the present ‘backward’ way in which data is collected and managed in the current education system as backward (he actually uses the term ‘agrarian’ to describe the process) – in which students are subjected to a few SATs tests at predetermined stages, and this score is ‘born by them’ until the next test, which makes labelling by teachers more likely.

In addition to this, the school day and year are run in a 19th century style, pigeon holed into year groups, pre-determined classes, students exposed to the same material, and with digital devices often banned from classes. All of this means data cannot be harnessed and analysed.

Where does this leave existing institutions of learning?

Schools and universities are well poised to harvest huge amounts of data on students, simply because they have 1000s, or 10s of 1000s of students enrolled.

To date, however, these traditional education institutions have shown a very limited ability to collect, let alone analyse and use big data to better inform how students learn.

The coming change will affect universities first – these have mature students, and this audience is more than capable of digesting insights about how to learn more effectively… the big universities where fees are expensive and students don’t get much back in return are poised for disruption by innovators…

Some of the very top universities seem to have got the importance of BIg Data – MIT identified EdX as a crucial part of its forward strategy in 2013 for example, but some of the universities lower down the pecking order may find it difficult to compete.

The response of some forward looking schools is to embrace elearning – recognising the importance of getting and utilising more data on how students learn – Khan Academy is partnered with a number of schools, for example Peninsula Bridge, a summer school for middle schoolers from poor communities in the Bay area. – Cukier cites an example of one girl who managed to improve her maths due to this (again, evidence cited is almost non existent here!)

The chapter concludes with imaging a future in which schools are just part of a broader ecosystem of learning – which includes a much more prominent role for private companies and where data plays a more central role in learning.


There are number of factors which may contribute to schools’ inability to harness big data:

  1. Time limitations – as Frank Furedi argues in ‘Wasted’, the function of schools have expanded so that they are now expected to do more than just educate kids – thus an ever larger proportion of schools’ budgets are taken up with other aspects of child development; combined with meddling by successive governments introducing new policies every few years, schools are caught in the trap of having to devote their resources to adapting to external stimuli rather than being able to innovate.
  2. Financial limitations/ equality issues – correct me if I’m wrong, but any online course tailored to GCSEs or A-levels is going to cost money, and this might be prohibitively expensive!
  3. The negative teacher experience of governance by ‘small data’ – there is a staggering amount of small data already collected and teachers are governed by this – it might actually be this experience of being governed by data that makes teachers reluctant to collect even more data – no one wants to be disempowered!
  4. Child privacy rights – there is the not insignificant issue of letting big ICT education companies have access to our children’s learning data!


Socrative for Teaching and Learning A-Level Sociology

Socrative is a real-time feedback learning-tool which allows teachers to quickly produce multiple choice, true/ false or open ended questions in order to assess student understanding.

Personally I think Socrative is the most useful online learning tool available to teachers and students studying A-level subjects, much more useful than Quizlet, for example, although it still has its limitations.

How to use Socrative

NB – You might like to just go sign up and try it out, unless you’re a total luddite (in which case go sit down with your tech-bod at school) you’ll find Socrative so easy to use…..

Teachers sign up for a ‘teacher account’ and can creating quizzes in advance of the lesson, or use the quick quiz option to ask one question at a time in class. Teachers will also need to create an online ‘room’ where students can join to take part in the quiz – you’ll need to call the room something simple live ‘Dave’s Sociology Room’. (Actually ideally something shorter than that – Maybe DSOC1, for example).

Once the teacher has started a quiz, students can access the quiz room by any browser, via the Socrative homepage or by the Socrative app if installed on phones/ tablets, and by entering the teacher’s ‘Room Name’ (which will be up on the screen once the quiz is live).

The teacher has the option to make progression through questions either 1 then all pause, or self-paced, and you can put in right or wrong answers, and add in explanation for why a particular answer is correct.

I’m not sure what the upper limit of entrants is, but Socrative has handled more than 20 in my class easily. The beauty of Socrative is that once students have completed all the questions, you get an overview of what questions they got right or wrong – here’s an example from a recent ‘education policies‘ recap I did at the beginning of one lesson the week after we’d taught social policies (in fairness to my teaching, questions 4 and 8 were designed to be tough! Also note that for question 9 I hadn’t set a ‘correct answer’ so it hasn’t colour coded).

clearly questions 4 and 8 need reviewing


And you can dig deeper into responses for each question too, simply by clicking on the question links above…. please note that in order to get a correct answer, students had to identify all three of the polices, and only those three!

Socrative questions

Incidentally, another great use for Socrative in sociology is simply to type in the same questions used in ‘opinion surveys’ to get an immediate feel for how students’s values correspond to that of the nation… here’s a sample of today’s students showing that they’re anti-immigration, but probably not quite as intolerant as their grandparents….

immigration survey

In the background of Socrative

Once you’ve signed up as a teacher, you get presented with the options below.. I won’t explain how it’s done, it’s so easy to use!

socrative review

Uses of Socrative for teaching A level sociology:

  • As with Quizlet, it’s great for recapping basic knowledge… however, an advantage over quizlet is that it allows you to enter much more challenging multiple choice questions, with answers close together to make students think.
  • You can tap into analysis and evaluation skills, simply by alternating multi choice knowledge questions with open ended questions asking students to simply justify their answers.
  • You can use the open ended question function to get students to write Point Explain Elaborate Evaluate essays collaboratively, live online.
  • With the quick question function, you can get students to select the best answer!
  • You get immediate feedback about what students need to review.
  • Socrative stores the reports for you, even with the free version.
  • You can collect a lot of data about formative learning here, especially if you can figure out a way of combining it with previous attendance, effort etc…

The Limitations:

  • For the free version, it only works when it’s live, you have to actually run it! The quizzes aren’t there all the time for constant review as they are with Quizlet.
  • Whose got time to actually use the data collected?

P.S. If you want to use the above education policies quiz – here’s the code…


Sociology Teaching Resources for Sale

You might be interested in my latest (November 2019) teaching resource pack which contains everything teachers need to deliver 10 hour long ‘introduction to sociology’ lessons.

sociology teaching resourcesIncluded in the bundle is a clearly structured 50 page gapped student work-pack, six PowerPoints* to structure the 10 lessons, 10 detailed lesson plans outlining a range of learning activities you can use with students, a massive list of relevant contemporary resources with links, and numerous lesson activities including introductions, plenaries and links to some Socrative quizzes.

These resources contain all the core sociology knowledge students need for a through introduction sociology, illustrated with numerous up to date contemporary case studies and statistics.

The resources have been designed for A-level sociology and cover the core themes on the AQA’s specification but are suitable for new 16-19 students studying any specification.

You might also like these teaching resources for the sociology of education. They are specifically designed for A-level sociology students and consist of several versions of key concepts definitions (80 concepts in total), gapped summary grids with answers covering the entire sociology of education specification and 7 analysis activities.

If you want to get both of the above resources and receive regular updates of teaching resources then you can subscribe for £9.99 a month. I’ll be producing 10 hour long lessons worth of resources every month throughout 2020 and beyond. The £9.99 subscription means you get the resources for 50% off the usual £19.99 price.


How will Big Data Change Education?

Big Data will make Feedback more focussed on effective teaching rather than student progress, it will make learning more individualised, and it will enable us to make probabilistic predictions about what programmes are best for different students.

Big Data EducationThis is according  to Big Data enthusiasts Meyer-Schonberger and Cukier in their (2017) reprint of their 2013 original ‘Big Data: The Essential Guide to Work, Life and Learning in the Age of Insight…

This post is a summary of the section at the back of this book, which focuses on big data and education (introduction to this section is here).

An excellent counter point to the outrageous, almost entirely speculative and sweepingly general claims made in this book  is Neil Selwyn’s ‘Is Technology Good for Education?‘ – the later is based on stacks of peer-reviewed evidence, the former on speculation only.

How will big data change feedback in education?

In the small data age, data collection in schools was largely limited to test scores and attendance, focussing on collecting standardised data on student performance, with feedback being almost exclusively in one direction – from the teachers to the schools to the kids and their parents – what is not measured is how well we teach our kids, or how effective different teaching techniques are in facilitating student progress.

Big data changes this by datafying the learning process – for example, e-books allow us to track how students read books, what they take notes one, at what point the give up reading, what sections they go back and check – thus we can measure how effective different books are, or different passages within books are, at helping students to understand knowledge, which can be used as a basis for immediate and differentiated intervention by teachers.

We could also use e-books in conjunction with testing to measure the relationship between different textual materials and the ‘decay curve’ – the rate at which students forget knowledge, which might be useful in improving test scores.

Companies such as Pearsons and Kaplan are very involved in producing e-books, but at time of writing (2017) even in America only 5% of school text books are digital.


In schools, the education which we are exposed to is standardised into a one size fits all package, tailored to a mythical average student. Learning has barely evolved from the industrial era – the materials students are given are identical, and the learning process still works essentially like an assembly line, with all students being paced through a syllabus at the same rate and learning benchmarked against a series of standardised tests.

All of this is tailored towards the needs of the teachers and the system, not the needs of the students.

However, in the Big Data age, following the American economist Tyler Cowen, ‘average is over’, and following Khan Academy founder Sal Khan ‘one size fits few’. The problem with the current, industrial era education system is that very few people actually benefit from it – the bright student is bored, while the weaker understands nothing. What we need is a means of flexibly adapting the pace and content of teaching to better fit the needs of individual students.

Tailoring education to each student has long been the aim of adaptive-learning software – an example of this is Carnegie Learning’s ‘Cognitive Tutor’ for school mathematics which decides which math questions to ask based on how students answered previous questions. This way it can identify problem areas and drill them, rather than try to cover everything but miss holes in their knowledge, as happens with the traditional system.

Another example is New York City’s ‘School of One’, a math programme in which students get their own personalised ‘playlist’ determined by an algorithm, each day, with maths problems for them suited to their needs.

Such individualised learning systems are dynamic — the learning materials change and adapt as more data is collected, analysed and transformed into feedback. More advanced material is only provided once students have mastered the fundamentals.

All of this is based on the idea of the ‘student as consumer/ client’ – one argument is that ‘if we can rip our favourite music and burn it into our own playlist’, why can’t we do this with education? A second argument is that in any other field of business, consumers provide feedback on products and the manufacturers improve (and increasingly personalise) the products to meet the demands of diverse consumers…. Adaptive learning should transform education into something which is more responsive to the needs of students/ consumers, rather than it being led by unresponsive systems and teachers.

Supporting evidence for adaptive learning:

In a trial of 400 high school freshmen in Oklahoma, the Cognitive Tutor system helped them achieve the same level of math proficiency in 12% less time than students learning math in the traditional way.

According to Bill Gates, talking in 2013, students on remedial education courses using adaptive software outperformed students in conventional courses and colleges benefitted from a 28% reduction in the cost per student.

Probabilistic Predictions

Big data will provide us with insights into how people in aggregate learn, but more importantly, into how each of us individually acquires knowledge. These insights are not perfect – they do not give us cause and effect relationships – Big data insights are probabilistic:

For example, we may spot that teaching materials of a certain sort will improve a particular person’s tests scores by 95%, but if we make a recommendation based on this, it will not work in 5% of cases.

This is something we are going to have to learn to live with, and parents and students are going to have to bear the risk – for example, all Big Data can do is to tell ‘clients’ that if they study this particular course, then there is a 70-80% chance they’ll see ‘x’ amount of improvement.

However, some probabilities will be more certain than others, and so for at least some specific recommendations, we can act with reasonable certainty.

We are going to have to get over seeing through the world through the lens of cause and effect…

Criticisms of Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier’s views on how Big Data will transform education

Personally, as a teacher myself I’m sceptical when non-experts start making sweeping predictions about the future of education based on speculation, especially when one of the claims for the Big Data is that it provides empirical insights, such speculation is hypocritical, precisely because it’s not based on any actual data!

The idea that transnational technology companies are going to help everyone in education is nonsense – they are profit driven, the fact that profit comes first, and that this will be a limiting factor in how data is used in the future  is not even mentioned.

They see ‘teachers as the enemy’ – as a barrier to Big data, this is highly dismissive of a group of people who have gone into a job to benefit children, where I doubt that people for tech companies do not have this as their primary motive – also see below, for an alternative explanation of their criticism to ‘teachers as a barrier’ to ed tech companies playing more of a role in education.

The ‘one size fits all model’ might be dominant in education because with a teacher student ration of 1-100 (in colleges) teachers literally cannot meet the individual needs of individual students. There simply isn’t time for this, along with the need for teachers to keep on top of the knowledge themselves, and keep up to date with technological changes, institutional-legal requirements, and do all of the (still necessary) marking of students work.

Related to the above point, making teachers analogous to other professionals with clients, I don’t believe there’s any other field of work where professionals are expected to deal with 100 clients at a time and personally interact with each of them every single day in a meaningful way… dealing with diverse and complex knowledge (rather than specialising in one particular thing, i.e. a haircut, or a financial advice for example) – while it might be fair to expect teachers to respond to ‘clients’ demands, 1 teacher cannot do this with 100 students. The ratio needs altering (1-10 maybe?).

The authors cit very few examples of peer-reviewed evidence to back up their claims.

Further Reading…

Problems of the role of technology companies in education

Will Big Data Change Education?

How will big data analytics reshape how we teach and how we learn; and how will it change what we learn?

Big Data.jpg

This is one of the questions posed in ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think’ (2013) by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger Kenneth Cukier.

Below is my summary of how they answer this question:

You might like to read this post first: What is Big Data?

Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier start off by arguing that public education treats children like ‘another brick in the wall’, seeing them as empty slates on which instructors may make their mark – but this mindset is an artefact of the constraints in which the school system exists – we mass produced graduates because for centuries there was no other way to deliver individualised instruction to a broad population. The old system was based around ‘small data’ which slotted students into set paths, big data favours a more flexible and open approach to education:

How big data will change the process of education?

  • First – we know more about individual differences because we can track student performance better – continuously through the learning process – educational data moves from stock to flow.
  • Second – we can tailor lessons to the needs of the individual, not the general average, which is actually no one!
  • Third – we can more easily learn what works best in teaching, the data enables a feedback loop.

‘The result is that education is one of the most significant areas where big data will make its mark. It will improve learning, which in turn will improve society and economic prosperity. Just as importantly it will improve student’s self-esteem.’ (202)

In short, the education system can be redesigned around handling individual differences, rather than trying to eradicate them or treat them as if they don’t exist.

How big data will change what we learn in education?

As to the question of what we learn – the increased role of big data in society means we will need to become more comfortable dealing with probabilities rather than certainties… and we will need to learn that we know far less than we think!

Big data means that many jobs – many of those involving making decisions – will be automated in the future, but humans have unique capabilities such as creativity and originality, irrationality and the ability to break radically from the past – so education should foster these things rather than seeing education as a process of pouring knowledge into the skulls of students.

Conventional education may have difficulty of breaking out the old mold of education, and digital disrupters are playing an insurgent role….

Will Britain ever have a Black Prime minister?

Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister? aired on the BBC IN 2017, which looked at the relative average life chances of a Black British child progressing through life… NB Thank you kindly to whoever uploaded this to You Tube (it won’t be there forever, the BBC have unjustly removed this from iPlayer already)

In the summary below I focus on some of the educational disadvantages black children face highlighted by the programme…

Teachers mark black children’s test scores more harshly than other ethnic groups

teacher racism evidence

For in-school test scores, the scores for black British students are consistently lower throughout schooling, until we get to the actual GCSE Results, when the scores of Black British students increase dramatically, with Black African students actually overtaking white British students.

The suggested explanation for this is that in school tests are marked by teachers who know their students and thus know their ethnicity, and that they have an unconscious bias against black students, and thus mark their test scores at a lower level, while GCSEs are marked independently – the markers do not know the students who sat them, and thus do not know their ethnicity: when the tests are marked in a neutral, unbiased way, the scores of black and white pupils are much closer together.

This is backed up by research conducted by Professor Simon Burgess which compared the results of test scores marked by teachers who knew the students sitting the tests (and hence their ethnicity) with the results of tests marked independently, where the markers did not know the ethnicity of the students who sat the tests: the results for some ethnic groups were lower when the teachers knew the ethnicity of the candidates, suggesting that there is an unconscious bias against certain ethnic groups.

A link to Professor Burgess’ (2009) research

This seems to be pretty damning evidence that teachers hold an unconscious bias against black students

Black students are less likely to get three As at A level than white students

Here we are told that….

  • Only 4% of black children get 3 As or more at A level, compared to…
  • 10% of white pupils
  • 28% of independent school pupils, who are disproportionately white.
  • In fact, the programme points out that you are more likely to be excluded from school if you are black than achieve 3 As at A-level

This seems to be less an example of evidence against black students, rather than evidence of the class-bias in A level results.

The Chances of being admitted to Oxford University are lower for black students compared to white students

The programme visits Oxford University, because every single Prime Minister (who has been to university) since 1937 has attended this bastion of privilege.

We are told that black applicants are less likely to be accepted into Oxford University than White students, even when they have the same 3 As as white students.

In an interview with Cameron Alexander, the then president of the African students union, he comes out and says that Oxford University is ‘institutionally racist’ and that structural factors explain the under-representation of black students – he points out the dominant culture of Oxford University is on of elite, white privilege, one in which staff identify more with independently schooled children, who have benefitted from the advantages of huge amounts of material and cultural capital; while they fail to identify with the hardships a black child from an inner city area may have faced – the result is that privileged white student has a higher change of being accepted into Oxford than a black student, even when they have the same grades as a the privileged white student.

As with the example of test scores above, at first glance this evidence seems damning, however, Oxford University has previously explained this by saying that black students have a higher rejection rate because they apply for harder courses on average than white students.

So what are the chances of a black person ever becoming Prime Minister…?

In short, a black person has a 17 million to 1 chance of becoming Prime Minister, compared to a 1 in 1.4 million chance for a white person…

black prime minister chances

Or in short… a black person is 12 times less likely to become Prime Minister in the U.K. compared to a white person…

life chances ethnicity



Unfortunately this programme has already disappeared from iPlayer, despite the fact that anyone in Britain with a T.V. has already paid for it, which is just bang out of order.