Metropolitan areas dominate university admissions

There’s an interesting report on the BBC website this morning which discusses the data published by the Sutton Trust on where Universities get their intake. Unsurprisingly, the report makes much of the fact that Oxbridge applications are skewed towards particular schools and that in general, privately educated pupils fare better when it comes to gaining admission. I think we knew most of this already.

However, there’s some interesting data tucked away in table 12 of appendix 2 of the trust’s report which doesn’t seem to have been widely reported. This table shows the proportion of state educated pupils going into higher education by local authority. So far, I’ve only been able to eyeball the data rather than do a proper analysis, but to me it seems to provide an even more stark illustration of the gaps that have appeared in our society. And it’s the metropolitan areas which appear to be benefitting from better life chances at the expense of all other areas (towns, cities, districts and shires) of England.

17 of the top 20 best performing local authorities come from the large metropolitan areas (around London, Manchester and Birmingham). Only Reading, Stockton and Poole buck the trend. If you look at the bottom twenty, there are only 4 metropolitan areas represented, with 6 or 7 shires and 8 or 9 towns/cities filling the remaining bottom 16 places, depending on how you classify them.

And we are comparing like with like here – these are all state educated pupils.

In the government’s quest to enable better social mobility, the gap between the metropolitan areas of England and the rest needs to be considered too.

Lies, damned lies and social mobility statistics

A few days ago, when the government (and Nick Clegg in particular) was launching itsĀ  strategy for social mobility, there was a chart used that made me feel a little uneasy. I couldn’t initially put my finger on why that was the case, but it looked as if it supported the argument rather too well. The chart I’m talking about is reproduced below:

A problem of social mobility or regression towards the mean?

A problem of social mobility or regression towards the mean?

It was used to claim that initially better performing children from poorer families fall back compared with less well performing children from richer families as they get older and so justify action on social mobility. Without doubting for a moment that everyone should have equality of opportunity and be encouraged to be successful in life, somehow the chart looked a little bit suspicious to me.

Someone else had spotted a problem with it as well – a researcher from the business school at Warwick University. He pointed out what I’d been struggling towards recognising – it was more likely to be the result of a statistical phenomena known as regression towards the mean, rather than a genuine reflection of reality.

Regression towards the mean happens when you measure the performance of individuals at the extreme ends of two different groups. The most likely explanation for the pattern seen in the chart is that the good performances from both groups were over-estimates of the child’s ability. Over time, it’s therefore likely that a more realistic view of their performance is obtained through repeated testing – and this is never as good as their best performance that they were selected for right at the start of the process.

Similarly, those selected for particularly poor performances may just have been having an off-day (it happens with small children!) Over time, a more realistic view of their performance is also obtained through repeated testing – and this is never as bad as the performance that they were initially selected for.

Now, I have no doubt that the government’s social mobility strategy is needed and that the intentions behind it are honourable. But the misuse of statistics (and probably where no misuse is required) does nothing to further the cause of reform.

I could also argue that this incident provides a neat illustration as to why removing tuition fees and funding undergraduate courses at universities from general taxation to teach the sciences and social sciences should be seen as a priority …

16th April 2011

One further thing occurs to me this morning – how reliable is an assessment of a child’s performance on a test of ability or IQ at 22 months anyway? The methodological issues in undertaking such an assessment must be huge, be more a matter of subjective than objective measures and subject to a whole range of demand characteristics, from the expectations of the parents to the views of theĀ  health worker performing the procedure.

It’s good to know that you’re out there – somewhere!

I promise that this is the final one of the series of posts (for now … as there’s always another quarter end …) which relate to my blog stats.

This time it’s a graph of the number of page views has received every week since the start of 2009 (my first post was in November 2008 and the site moved here from during in October 2009.) The figures don’t include hits from the automated robots that Google and others send out across the internet to look for content to enable their search engines to work – these are pages read (or at least looked at) by humans (or dogs, perhaps!) - weekly page views 01-01-2009 to 03-04-2011 - weekly page views 01-01-2009 to 03-04-2011

As I said, it’s good to know that you’re out there – somewhere!


Q1 2011 – Comings and goings

In case you weren’t bored enough already by the previous statistical post, here’s another. This time, it’s where people came from in the first quarter of 2011 and where they left to go to if they clicked on a link on this blog.


Q1 2011 - referring sites

Q1 2011 - referring sites


In some ways it’s no great surprise that facebook tops the list this time. I’m now finally on there myself and it also seems to have replaced a lot of the chatter that used to happen in the FirstClass forums in previous years. These are still there in second place, but it’s a very distant second place now. There have been very few direct visits from the OU Moodle forums too – again, no real surprise as I haven’t been particularly active on either the SD226 or DD307 forums and there’s no ability to set up a signature – so there’s no obvious place to leave a link to here.


Q1 2011 - clicks

Q1 2011 - clicks


There’s a much wider variety of places where people go to after visiting here though. The vast majority of them are clicks on the blogroll on the right hand side of the screen. Until a couple of months ago, these were listed alphabetically which obviously favoured ‘A BSc for me!’ I’ve since randomised their order and that seems to be levelling out the primacy effect to some extent. However, TMA Machine tops the list – an indication of what most OU students are thinking about most of the time!

If you’re not asleep yet, there will be a final post in this series once the week is over, showing the overall traffic here over the last two and a quarter years. Thanks again for visiting!

Most popular posts – Q1 2011

I had written an ‘April Fool’ post a few days ago that was scheduled to appear here just after midnight.

However, I read it again and decided it just wasn’t that funny. So it’s gone. As such, you’ll have to make do with a repeat (kind of) instead.

*Drum roll*

The graphic below shows the 30 most popular posts on this blog as voted for read by you, dear reader, in the first quarter of this year.

Most popular posts - Q1 2011

Most popular posts - Q1 2011

Here’s the repeat bit – these were the most popular posts in the same quarter last year:


Most read posts January - March 2010

Most read posts January - March 2010


As you can see, the most popular post from the first quarter last year would have finished a mere 9th.

The blog’s popular subject matter hasn’t changed that much, except it’s DD307 (red*) and SD226 (blue*) that’s the most popular topic (the bars are purple* to indicate a posts was about both), but some of the archived posts on DD303 (green*) still attract attention. The more general OU / higher education / student tuition fees posts (the yellow* bars) also figure quite highly.

Look – I know you may not be that interested in any of this. But it’s soooo much better than the “April Fool” joke post I’d written. Trust me.

And it also gives me another chance to say “thank you” to everyone out there who reads this stuff. Haven’t you got a TMA you should be writing? I know I have …

(*) Yes, I messed up. The colours are those on this year’s chart, and they’re different to last year’s. Hadn’t thought of that …

Never mind the quality, feel the width!

I’ve already posted three articles about my blog statistics for 2010. You may well be relieved to hear that this is the final one! This is simply a graph comparing the number of page views each week in 2010 compared with 2009.

2010 saw 53,501 page views (23,989 in 2009). - weekly page views in 2009-2010 - weekly page views in 2009-2010

Unsurprisingly, given the OU examination timetable for ED209 and DD303, October was the busiest month with 13,479 views.

Thanks for visiting everyone – and I’m looking forward to (virtually) seeing you all again in 2011.

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