GCSE results: edging towards perfection

It seems that historic GCSE attainment data is hard to access. Understandably so. The government, and its predecessors for the last 29 years, hardly have a good story to tell.

Neither the ONS, nor DfE nor data.gov.uk seems able to furnish me with historic attainment figures. Specifically, I’d like the percentage of pupils attaining five or more A*–C grades by year. And I’d like to know the grade distribution by subject (and overall) by year.

I’ve managed to cobble together a dataset containing 2001/2 data and 2006/7 data showing the proportion of A*–C grades by primary subject by geography and gender. It seems that subsequent years’ data isn’t available. For the sake of brevity, let’s wrongly refer to an A*–C grade as a pass.

Over that five-year period, the pass rate in core subjects has gone up by 8.9 percentage points, from 31.6% to 40.5%. Assuming linearity, everyone should be passing these subjects by 2039.

Over the same period, Maths passes have risen by 4.7 percentage points, from 49.2% to 53.9%. And English by 4.2 points, from 56.8 to 61.0%.

So as a nation, it’s clear that we’re becoming more intelligent. Or are we?

Of course we’re not. The whole thing is a farce. The overall pass rate (in the ridiculous “turn up and you pass” sense of the word) has risen for the 23rd consecutive year, now sitting at a heady 98.7%. The qualification has become meaningless. A grades were the first to become worthless, A* grades being introduced in 1994, soon becoming the new currency of choice. And now in certain circles, anything less than ten results containing the letter A is seen as failure. How on earth employers or colleges evaluate the relative merit of candidates I have no idea.

As I’ve said before, there needs to be some normalisation. We are not getting more intelligent as a nation. The percentage of A* grades awarded each year should not change. Ever. There should be a forced curve for each subject. It would give predictability to those organisations interested in those pupils. But perhaps more importantly, it would rid the world of trite, vacuous news stories every August, accompanied by attractive leaping girls.

This won’t happen, of course. Instead, the youth of tomorrow will edge towards perfection, everyone becoming equal and indistinguishable.

Libya reporting: Sky News or BBC?

I watched with interest my Twitter stream on Sunday evening. Things looked like they were coming to a head in Libya. And the Twitterati were berating the BBC for their allegedly woeful reporting, while praising the work of Sky for their up-to-the-minute coverage.

Alex Crawford was hailed a hero, reporting as she was from a busy street filled with celebrating rebel supporters. And I have to admit, her bravery in that situation was admirable.

Thirty-six hours later, things have not yet come to a head. Col Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, was reportedly captured on Sunday evening. Yet today, news suggests that this news was premature, as he vows to fight on, presumably not from a captured standpoint.

Sky News’ sensationalist coverage was gripping. But it led people, probably both in the UK and Libya, to think that the rebel situation was more advanced than was actually the case. Whether this risked lives, who knows.

I would much rather absorb the BBC coverage, lacking though it might be of street scenes and sensational reporting (in the traditional sense of the word)—unpopular though my stance might be.

How I came to wear glasses

When I was a teenager, my eyesight started failing me. Not severely, but sufficiently for it to impact on my life.

Yet for some bizarre reason, I was embarrassed to admit to this failing. All of the three other members of my family had similar failures. My parents have worn glasses or contact lenses for as long as I can remember, and longer. And my brother started wearing glasses around the age of ten, I guess.

Yet despite this, I was embarrassed. I remember watching TV for years kneeling against a poof, in the furniture sense of the word, to ensure that my viewing was not impaired by having to sit on a more distant chair or sofa. I passed this off as a teenage idiosyncrasy.

I went through my three undergrad. years always sitting on the front row in lectures, wanting to be able to see what was going on as opposed to being a swat. (Whether glasses would have changed my seating position is a moot point.)

And I finally succumbed to the need for glasses during the summer of 1994. (Maybe I should write a song about that.) This acknowledgment of sensory failure was celebrated in secret by a lone visit to Specsavers Bradford, still without telling a soul of my weakness.

The visit equipped me with glasses that I took to my postgrad. course in October 1994. My brother came to visit either during Freshers or during that first term. And the secret was out, and shared with my mum: Deef’s got geps.

Deef was my nickname of the day. And geps was slang for glasses. Unfortunately for my mum, she wasn’t aware of this latter fact, and interpreted the news as my having an STD. (The chance would’ve been a fine thing.)

Once this was straightened out, the news was met with utmost, downright acceptance and ambivalence.

My fear of telling the world of my failing was ridiculous. But at the time, it was a massive deal.

Nowadays, I love my glasses. People ask whether I’d consider laser treatment, to which I reply in the negative. Why would I? My glasses are a part of me.

So if you need glasses, go get some. It really isn’t that big a deal. And you may grow to love them.

A childhood challenge

As a kid, I remember an experience that I feel stood me in good stead for my later years. I was probably 14 or so at the time, my fellow chefs a couple of years older.

My brother, my cousin Catherine and I were together tasked with conjuring up a three course meal within a budget. The meal would, all being well, be eaten by ourselves and our respective parents (seven of us in total). And I vaguely remember the budget being a lavish £45, wine included (for the olds only, natch).

Our responsibilities would include everything: deciding on the dishes to be served, procurement of the ingredients, preparation and cooking, setting of the table, eating (nom) and washing up. No help whatsoever from the olds. The meal would include a starter, a main, pudding (not dessert—the meal was to be served at my aunt and uncle’s house in Cleckheaton), together with coffee and mints. This was the eighties, after all.

I cannot recall a single element of what was conjured up that day, 25 or so years ago. (I suspect that the mints served were After Eights. Or Matchsticks. This was the eighties, after all.)

But I do remember the emotions of the day, as well as certain logistical aspects: the sense of teamwork, the sense of challenge at staying within budget, the need to time things accurately to avoid long waits between courses, the desire to please, and, in the end, the sense of achievement. I remember shuttling between the dining room and the kitchen, in an attempt to align eating progress with cooking progress. And I remember relishing the sense of responsibility that I was being afforded.

I have no idea why I’m sharing the story, apart from to say that all kids should be set a similar challenge. It teaches some very positive life skills, and provides for an experience that might be remembered 25 years later.

Is green really green?

There are two trends that are becoming increasingly prevalent, both claiming to help save the environment, but for both of which I haven’t seen sufficient data to show whether this is indeed the case. They are: household recycling and electric cars.

For household recycling, there are a number of environmental costs associated with the model. The garbage truck that picks the orange bags up from outside our house each week makes a fair racket and I assume uses fuel along the way. The men that work that truck also have an associated carbon footprint. Once at the recycling centre, the materials needs to be sorted before the process begins to turn those recycled bottles, newspaper, tin cans etc. into a recycled item, a process that also demands energy. My question: is the environmental impact of this process in producing, say, a recycled bottle, less than that associated with producing a similar unrecycled bottle from its raw materials? And if so, by what percent?

Similarly, electric cars are marketed based on their environmental credentials. But the majority of electricity in the UK is produced by burning fossil fuels. Whilst I appreciate that long term, electric cars will give us the opportunity to fuel them in a greener way, as an increasing proportion of the Grid’s energy is sourced from wind farms etc., I’d like to understand the current relative impact of a petrol/diesel car and an electric or hybrid car.

Maybe the data’s there and I haven’t found it. But I fear that the data does not paint a particularly rosy picture, and is therefore not made available. I hope this supposition is wrong.

Shopping odds

I played the shopping game with my daughter, panda and monkey last night. There are 32 cards, each portraying an item of shopping, all placed face down. Each of us has a flat, cardboard shopping trolley that can hold eight items, and a shopping list containing eight items.

The objective is to fill your shopping trolley with the items on your list by uncovering the cards, one at a time. Our simplified rules dictate that if you uncover one of your opponent’s items, they can put it in their trolley and take the next turn.

My daughter had six items in her trolley before anything was uncovered belonging to me. Panda had seven. And monkey had five. So 18 cards had been uncovered without a single one belonging to me.

The odds of this happening to me were 1,436,568 to 1. The odds of it happening to one of us were 359,142 to 1.

Keep left—at your peril

Disembark a Central Line train at Liverpool Street station. Take the easternmost exit from the platforms—at the front of the train if you’re travelling east; the back if you’re travelling west. On leaving the platforms, board one of the escalators that take you back towards the middle of the train.

Upon getting through the exit barriers, there will be an underground concourse, after which you will see a thoroughfare to your left and one to your right. Take the one to your left. It will take you up a couple of flights d stairs before bringing you out on the main train station concourse.

This thoroughfare is the Tube traveller’s equivalent to the short road outside the Savoy. It is, to my knowledge, the only thoroughfare that requires its users to walk on the right as opposed to the left.

I say requires. Its signage points its users to keep to the left, irrespective of their direction of travel. I( love the rotational symmetry of this message, but that’s by the by.) But the modus operandi of 98% of its users is, bizarrely, to keep right. And if your sense of self-preservation outweighs your need to obey orders, you’ll follow the crowd. Believe me: I’ve tried to obey the signs and have been met with indignation that has more than outweighed my own, picking up a few bruises along the way. It’s simply not worth it.

I have no idea why the thoroughfare has evolved this way. But it has. And in spite of its signage, I expect it will always be the rebellious child of the Underground.

Shop names: an idiot’s guide

Here’s a little advice for you, to make your lives more rewarding and mine less frustrating. It relates to how shop names should be said and written. Here goes.

Asda and Tesco are singular. There is never a need to saying you’re going to Asdas, unless you’re going to Asdas up and down the country in search for the last remaining Pokemon on Christmas Eve. If you need to pluralise Tesco in such a way, it’s Tescos.

McDonald’s and Sainsbury’s should both be written and said such. I went to McDonald’s. While this is a lie, it’s at least grammatically correct. In writing, avoid at all costs using these with a possessive apostrophe, as this is how wormholes are created. Talk of the profits that McDonald’s made, not of McDonald’s’ profits, or however it might be written.

Marks and Spencer doesn’t have an S at the end. Feel free to abbreviate to Markses, but only if you want to go to Hell.

That is all.