407 - Autumn Snippets | Scoins.net | DJS

407 - Autumn Snippets

Summer sippets didn't happen. Basically, I've lost interest in writing quite so often. Why this is, I am uncertain.


October is political conference season, so of course there are all sorts of 'announcements', some of which are genujinely new revelations of intent – only of the party is elected with sufficient majority. Many of these ideas are just that and no more so that effectively these proposals are being wheeled out for trial by opinion. Since very much Opinion is formed by a very few people working in the media, it is difficult to actually understand the intention.

One such example came from the PM's speech at the end of the Tory conference, where Rishi Sunak (Rish! in th Guardian) proposed we replace end-of-school A-levels abd T-levels with ABS, the Advanced British Standard. Commentary has muddied this thoroughly. From the academic side I don't see this as being diffierent from the AS and A-level position we had twenty years ago, which was binned as AS levels became 'too hard' and 'too much', but did actually have people studying five subjects. The PM's proposals is that two of the five would automatically be English and Maths, but I have immediate issues with what that actually means in terms of content. I revcognise already that the time from prtoposal to action is about a decade, so very few of us actually care very much about this. What we are not having—and what such a proposal should be creating—is a conversation in depth about what we actually want from state education.

Making the perception of gap between practical, technical and academic qualifications reduce or disappear is a laudable target. Establishing minimum standards for very nearly everyone (say 95-99%) seems like a good idea; when I've written a lot about GCSEs labelling some third of the population is inadequate failures, making that failure group somethign like ten times smaller seems like a valuable target. Causing students to be less ready for university study strikes me as a (very) Bad Idea. Changing the end of secondary school to need a lot more teachiing (and no explanation what is lost to make spce for 'more') which presumably means we need more teachers woudl be fine, except that we have steadily fewer teachers.

I continue to be quite lost by the need for qualifications at 16 when one is not allowed to leave school until 18. I see value in having qualifications in the things you want not to take further, but little value beyond course qualification for anything that you would take further. For example, my maths and sciences were good at 16, so did I need to do more than enough to join the A-levels class? Really? Would the time (as too many Y11 students experience) in endless repetition of material seen already not be better spent on new material? If I'm going instead to stop French (say), then is it not relatively important to establish a useful finishing grade?For that matter, just how much more Maths and English would one include, and how woudl this vary with other expectations? I was the only taker of Use of English in my sixth form (of about 200) in an age when we didn't have anything like General Studies or Critical Thinking; I have no use personally for Eng Lit but (I see) a lot of use for better language skills (writing, speaking, presentation, comprehension, analysis). In very much the same way I could support everyone being provably competent in numeracy and what is currently called Functional Skills; I recognise a good deal of simple statistics that is in the GCSE that as a nation we'd be better off if almost everyone understood. But, in the same way that 'English' might turn into 'able to communicate', so 'Maths", which really means little more than 'Numeracy', might usefully morph into 'able to use numbers', or 'not frigthened to use numbers' or 'able to recognise when the numbers are wrong'. Practical living skills is what we need, and we need them to be common to the vast majority.

I would include migrants in those who need to have this common knowledge/skill base. I think we need this so much that it ought to be free, irrespective of age.

I have no issues at all with doing 14-19 education quite differently. One idea I have liked for a long time was the technical college; when I did the 11-plus, there were, in theory, three routes – grammar school, technical college and the 'secondary modern'. That last became the dumpoing ground and what we could usefully explore now is keeping only two categories, academic and technical, while ensuring a good deal of overlap.

Among the proposals to make this work is (yet) more money for entry-level teachers. Wonderful, but that also means that the experienced teacher is valued very little and so is that experience. Moving the whole teaching return in a positivce direction would be another approach entirely. But teachers have shown in surveys that having x% less work would be very valuable, perhaps even worth x% loss of pay (or increase in pay).  [3] reports a loss of 5 hours per week has the same effect as a 10% rise in pay. The teaching profession is unattractive; retention is poor, training is long and that has costs, the rewards are dubious, the role is not appreciated as it used to be, diversity is low. [For instance, my wife is ethnically Chiinese, which makes her effectively unemployable in primary education, so unaccepting are we, as parents, of 'different'. Which is why she teaches secondary; we tried.] About 25% of state-funded schools have no male teacher; only about a third of all teachers are male (I guess this is worst in the primary sector). In primary schools, ethnic represetation are about ten times less than in the populations they serve; in primary and secondary together, 60% of state schools have no ethnic minority teacher (at all) and those few are unlikley to reach SLT status. [3 throughout, but many other possible sites hold this same information].

DJS 20231010

[1]   https://theconversation.com/advanced-british-standard-sunaks-proposed-replacement-for-a-levels-and-t-levels-could-make-education-less-divisive-215022?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20October%206%202023%20-%202758927890&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20October%206%202023%20-%202758927890+CID_793a063792ff3e0570aec46879588b01&utm_source=campaign_monitor_uk&utm_term=pretty%20good%20idea

[2]   https://theconversation.com/manchester-baccalaureate-how-the-proposed-vocational-gcse-route-would-work-and-the-pitfalls-it-must-avoid-208778

[3]  https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/120414/pdf/   This is only three pages and dense with information. Do read it.

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4384928         ....is the related academic paper (40 pages), also Joshua Follard.

Using new data on teachers’ intentions to leave the profession, subjective expectations about labour market outcomes and a modified discrete-choice experiment we find that i) teachers are systematically misinformed about population earnings, and misinformation is correlated with attrition intentions; ii) non-pecuniary factors are the most cost-effective method of reducing teacher attrition; and iii) attrition intentions are more affected by reductions in workplace amenities than symmetric improvements, suggesting preventing cuts is more important that rolling out more generous benefits. Linking our survey data to teachers’ administrative records we provide the first evidence that teachers attrition intentions are strong predictors of actual behaviour.

[4]   https://theconversation.com/advanced-british-standard-a-level-replacement-will-require-more-teachers-but-bonuses-may-not-be-the-way-to-get-them-215021?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20October%206%202023%20-%202758927890&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20October%206%202023%20-%202758927890+CID_793a063792ff3e0570aec46879588b01&utm_source=campaign_monitor_uk&utm_term=may%20not%20be%20the%20best%20approach




Last weekend, the Welsh changed their speed limit for built-up areas, moving from 30mph to 20mph. As you'd expect, there is outcry from many who will be affected adversely, such as those who drive a lot.

Generally, this is rubbish.

Suppose you do a lot of miles a week and that all of this is at 30mph. Assume for the nonce that the average speed for the week is 30 and that the 'new' avaerage speed will be 20. If so, the additional time is 50% of previous. I do not think this will be remotely true. For a start, 20 will mean 23-25 (whatever can be got away with), where 30 has been pretty well adhered to. Second, a lot of urban driving is stationary, such as in traffic and at the lights; this time will increase ever so slightly but I predict that the proportion of stopped time will be very much the same. So I think we might see an increase of driving time in the urban environment more like 30% (30/23=1.30).

The political argument is that NHS injury costs are around £90m per year while the chnage has a one-off cost of around £32m. There's vast claims of the cost of the added time (e.g. £150m a year). The safety argument is simplistic, that lower speed means fewer deaths, accidents and incidents both in numbers and in severity. Mark Drakeford (the Welsh political leader) is on record as saying he expects a 40% reduction in collisions. He poionted to Spain's similar change, which roduced 20% fewer urban deaths (presumably traffic urban deaths) and a 34% reduction in cyclist fatalities.

THe same 20mph idea already applies to the congestion charge zone in London, it is expected to happen in Scotland in 2025 and cities are working towards this same target.

I suspect that the implication that all urban roads will be 20mph is misleading; I think it will be all residential roads that are at 20mph. But then I think the trend for that is gaining acceptance. 

I continue to have issues with the compliance with such a rule, while at the very same time recognising that I too have problems reducing speed to 20mph. In part that is becasue long-establ;ished habit is for 30mph so, if I have not actually noticed the 20mph limit, my default state is 30mph. I am very much aware of a point I've entered on these pages several times, that having a speed limit brings with it a collection of assumptions. her we go again:

If you believe that the 20mph speed limit will be adhered to you are likely to behave as if all traffic is doing 20mph.  Thinking distance + Braking distance = Stopping distance and, at 20mph the assumptions are a dry road, a working car and an awake, alert driver. The braking distance is v²/20 in feet and the thinking distance is usually ⅔ of a second, v feet, though I did find amodel that assumed a whole second of thinking/perception time. I show the calculations. The takeaway is that stopping from 20 takes about half the distance that stopping from 30 does. But that assumes that 20 means 20.

I show here the speed you'd have slowed to at the 40 foot point, where you'd be stopped from 20mph. At 26mph it is as if you had taken no notice at all. At 21 and 22mph that is like being run into by a runner and 22 and 23 like being hit by a cyclist – in both cases on the additional assumption that no avoiding action has occurred.

Now, I later found one of the reports on the effects of changing the speed limit (5th link below). I've picked some points to copy here. The speed monitoring devices aim to categorise in 5mph ranges, 15-19, 20-24 etc. So arriving at the sensor at 24 mph produces the √ result. In one of the test areas this doubled, from 23% to 45%. Another had a 50% improvement. That a significant percentage was already well under 30mph suggests that these particular roads would be (are, have been) considered unfit for 30mph by many drivers. The general speed reduction was a lot less than the media would implicitly suggest; for one of the sample areas, the mean actually fell under 20mph, but for most a reduction of 5-7mph seems in some sense 'normal'. I guess that making the whole of Wales comply will change matters.

DJS 20230920







I am exercised (not in the physical activity sense, I'm somewhat annoyed) by the prevalence of blatant dishonesty in US politics. Of course, since we have so much media coverage of that, those same awful attitudes are spreading here. So we have references to your truth not being my truth, ¹ or to being a 'post-truth' society. What we really mean here is that we distinguish between, on one extreme, something genuinely true, honestly delivered and supported by evidence, and on the other extreme, something delivered in such a way that the audience believes that the speaker in turn believes that what they are saying is true. We could reduce this position to two states, that of speaking belief and speaking truth. 

Partly as a consequence of Trump and his inchoate, inveterate (and in my world, inexcusable) lying (some 30,000 false or misleading statements during his presidency, [1]), we have some relatively sensible exploration of how US voters (think Republicans) treat trump as in some sense, an honest politician. The discovery is that they conclude that he is speaking to his beliefs, belief-speaking. They don't care whether or not there is a difference between what goes on in his head and what comes out of his mouth, though personally I care a lot about that distinction – premeditated crime or not, substantially. What I far prefer is fact-speaking, where content is explained, sources are pointed to. Of course, the way political debates work, both sides point to sources and shade (spin) what they claim is there so that, while a source might itself be entirely honest and even accurate, what the speakers say it says is not the same thing.

All of which says that we really ought to do the implied work of reading the 'evidence', judging for ourselves the veracity of such work and only then deciding whether we agree with any of the opinions expressed. Which of course doesn't happen, because inevitably it is the argument (sorry, presentation of an argument) that comes first. So, in the same what that a group of people will generally agree with the first speaker expressing an opinion, if you've heard an interpretation of content, you're hard pressed to disagree. Mostly this is because, having heard the spun version, you read the content as supporting that spin. If, on the other hand you've read (or listened or watched) the unspun version yourself and formed your own opinions, then you're far less likely to give wholesale agreement to another opinion. I have found that my reaction to such occasions is that I can see how the other party reached their viewpoint, which has nothing at all to do with my agreeing that they are 'right'. But then I have long held that it is valuable for us to accept that there is a range of opinion in reaction to some event. It is the discussion of these differences that makes life interesting and we are all the losers when we refuse to allow differences of opinion to occur. Exploration of such differences can reveal ambiguities and interpretations, each of which has value – if one is prepared to make the effort.

Sadly, few of us these days are prepared to make any effort with regard to thinking. I wrote above about proposals for Maths and English to continue to the end of secondary schooling; if the content required people to practise thinking, to learn to criticise interpretations and to recognise where fact-truth has drifted towards belief-truth (and to have the common vocabulary to describe such things), then I think our society would be much improved.

In the early 60s I spent a lot of time reading short SF, it being relatively easy to find in the library since all the Golllancz books had yellow spines. I remember one story that began with three declarations, something like this:

When communication is poor, crime is easy

When communication is perceived as good, bigger crime is relatively easy

When communication is perfect, crime is impossible.

I have tried more than once to find the proper quote, but I do remember that the story went on to explore how crime became very difficult if telepathy was widespread. If writing such a story now, I'd be exploring the fact-based and belief-based differences. 

I'd also want to look at the concept of trust, which is an element of the acceptance of evidence, based on past experience, that <source> is correct, hence trusted to be correct in the current instance. Thus, when reading news and the reporting of events, it becomes important to be aware of the distinction between fact and opinion. When a discussion occurs this is far more interesting if the facts are undisputed. Try [2].

I read often that our (our own, yours) opinions are assumed true and well-supported. I disagree: I am aware that I hold opinions unsupported by any evidence. Opinions that I consider both true and well-supported fall into a category of, say, 'justified opinion'. I am open to evidence that disagrees with such opinion. Is there a spectrum with fact at one end and some form of (unsupported) opinion or belief at the other? If an opinion is a value judgement does that mean that a value judgement is an opinion? Better communication skills required; please make provision of reasoining for any opinion. 

Which might well reduce to a campaign for critical thinking.

[1]  https://theconversation.com/donald-trumps-truth-why-liars-might-sometimes-be-considered-honest-new-research-214283?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20September%2026%202023%20-%202748127780&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20September%2026%202023%20-%202748127780+CID_9bcee4cec11e08d39166eb7b61819556&utm_source=campaign_monitor_uk&utm_term=not%20as%20daft%20as%20it%20sounds

[2]   https://youthtimemag.com/dont-get-confused-by-facts-and-opinion/ 


      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KrFVG0Abc8   a contrary viewpoint, most of which is semantic and stems from the US silliness of making this Y2 ("Grade Two") school content.  A fact is (or can be) proven true. Quite what a belief is is very vague, but I offer that it is a conclusion, a judgement. Is there a spectrum betweem fact and opinion?

1.  Rudi Giuliani, "Truth isn't truth",  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/23/truth-isnt-truth-so-should-we-expect-lies-from-donald-trump    “Truth isn’t truth,” he insisted during an interview. This would seem to imply that a post-truth age is simultaneously a post-untruth age, though lies haven’t yet vanished from the face of the planet.



Covid            Email: David@Scoins.net      © David Scoins 2021