"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Scottish school league tables 2012

Do we have to keep making the same point every year? Like last year, and the year before, and the year before that, the league tables show that not only is there no causal link between things like 'faith' and 'ethos' and exam results - there isn't even a correlation. Social class, on the other hand, is shown to be very strongly correlated to academic performance.

 However, in Glasgow there are two schools that seem to buck this trend: one that promotes Gaelic and the other that excludes boys. With regards the former, there's a significant degree of overlap with social class. A working class Gaelic speaker I have never met. This alone doesn't explain the very strong performance of the Gaelic school though. With regards to the school that excludes boys, on the other hand, the opposite is the case - with the overwhelming majority of the roll being working class Catholics and Muslims.

 Discuss.

Update: Having taken a closer look at the Glasgow figures, perhaps a little qualification is required.  With regards to the Gaelic school, perhaps the overlap with social class is enough to explain much of its strong performance.  At 10% it has the lowest proportion of children receiving free schools meals in Glasgow and this figure is also below the national average.

With regards the girls only school, it remains likely that its status as a single-sex school is a more significant variable than religion since the mean score for Glasgow as a whole would tend to suggest that the latter has little impact.  In Glasgow, denominational schools actually score slightly lower (-2%) than non-denominational schools - with denominational schools having slightly more (0.7%) of their pupils receiving school meals.

I also missed the very strong performance of Hillhead High School, which scored around 10% higher than the Scottish average in Higher results, yet has nearly three times the number of pupils receiving free school meals than the national average.  There are a number of possible explanations for this but none of them have anything to do with religion, Gaelic or excluding boys, obviously.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A farewell to arms

There isn't much one anyone can say about the Newton school massacre that hasn't already been said in a different context.  Much of what has been said makes even less sense now than it did in the past.  Like the notion that what America needs to solve the problem of gun-violence is more guns.  Or the attempt to psychologise and discern the pathology of a nation.  One assumes that the Americans aren't any more disposed to violence or mental illness than anyone else - it's just that they have more guns.  It isn't, therefore, the time to have a debate about gun-control but for politicians to have just a fraction of the courage shown by those brave teachers and stand up and say candidly that the second amendment needs to be repealed.  To argue against this on the basis of what the 'Founding Fathers' intended for the American republic is to revere the dead over those who live and die today.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Leveson and the enemies of freedom

I'm already more than a little hacked-off with the celebs for censorship campaign but I'll do a deal with those who disagree; I'll refrain from making the ad hominem point that the most vocal among the pro-Leveson camp are a bunch of spoiled celebrities if they do the same with regards to the fact that it is largely the Conservatives who have, rightly in my view, identified the potentially statutory underpinning of any new system of press regulation as a Rubicon that should not be crossed.

The title of the post is deliberately provocative.  I don't doubt that many of those who support Leveson's proposals believe in a free press but I do think they are being naive in the extreme if they imagine that they represent some kind of British version of the 1st Amendment to the constitution of the American republic.  As Kenan Malik points out, this does not impose a duty on the state to guarantee the freedom the the press but rather carries an obligation to refrain from interfering with it.  While he doesn't use this phrase, Kenan Malik correctly identifies the division among liberals as one between those who favour what Isaiah Berlin called 'negative liberty' and those who do not.  I don't have much to add to this except to note that while Leveson's supporters may sincerely support free speech, there's been rather a lot of them that have used modes of argument that have had a familiar whiff of authoritarianism about them.  Among these are the following:

Something must be done!   Something always has to be done because, we are assured, the status quo is 'unsustainable'.  We are in 'new territory', the world has changed, that what is happening now is unprecedented.  With regards to this, it has been suggested to me that what is unprecedented is the degradation of the press.  What seems more likely to me is that it is our knowledge of this is the thing that is unprecedented.  I read about it in a newspaper.

The victims!  What about the victims?  An authoritarian argument wouldn't be complete without some victim-waving.  Don't you care about them?  This is why 'something must be done'.  If you reject regulation of those who made them victims you're as bad as those who perpetuated the original injury.  There's obviously a fair amount of moral blackmail here, as well as the insistence that you come up with an alternative.  "Well, what do you suggest?"  When what is being proposed strikes me as being less desirable than the present situation, I propose doing precisely nothing.

There's also the way in which 'accountability' is touted as an unarguably Good Thing.  Who could disagree with accountability?  It's like motherhood and apple pie.  You question the need for accountability?  You might as well own up - you shot Bambi's mum, didn't you?  And there's the usual managerial response to the discovery that laws have been broken.  What we need is not the present laws being enforced.  No, let's have new ones.  But what concerns me most is this...

What press freedom?  When you suggest that Leveson puts the freedom of the press at peril, it is put to you patiently that you are being so painfully naive.  "You can't possibly imagine we have this now?"  I can't see from behind my keyboard in sunny Glasgow the facial expressions of those who say this but I imagine them rolling their eyes at this point in the way that Marxists used to do when you'd failed to understand the Laws of History or something.  That many of these taking this line are Marxists or former Marxists is no coincidence   The notion that 'press freedom' in this context serves only the interests of corporations like News International is merely an updated version of the idea that 'bourgeois freedom' is an illusion that masks the dominance of the ruling class.  It has formed part of leftist thinking since the 19th century and despite the sinister trajectory it has taken in European political movements of both the extreme left and right in the 20th, it is still being wheeled out in the 21st.  I'd like to suggest that history teaches us that these 'illusory' liberal freedoms tend to be missed when they're gone.


Another thing: Through the power of social media it's being suggested that something should be done about the disproportionate market share enjoyed by certain companies.  Yes, but Leveson didn't even touch on this.  What's he's proposing is a system that would make those working in these 'monopolies' behave better, rather than doing anything about their dominant position.  (Using inverted commas because they aren't monopolies.) 

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