Dave Cousins and Educational Equality

by Harry on January 11, 2008

Weather-permitting I’ll be giving a talk called “Putting Educational Equality in its Place” at the University of Toronto on Monday. IT looks as if it is a public talk, and I’ll even be using a powerpoint. More details here (Henry will be delighted to notice that the first name on the pdf of the text is his, not mine) I’m looking forward to it, partly because I’ll get to see frequent CT commenter Tom Hurka, who, rather cruelly, pointed out that I was going to be missing the chance to see Dave Cousins live by about 2 months. Well, its 28 years since I last saw him live, so a few more won’t make much difference. Still, some free Dave Cousins here.



Trumandem 01.12.08 at 1:40 am

I hope you post about your appearance. I’d be interested to hear what you are speaking about specifically. Good luck.


Truman’s Conscience


mcd 01.12.08 at 3:39 am

A good distribution of education depends on whether it’s an intrinsic good which “everyone” should want for its own sake, or merely a path to other goods (jobs, income), in which case the argument is code or proxy for debate over what is a good distribution of jobs and income.

A lot of work in sociology of education suggests that education outcomes are only weakly connected to later income distribution.


Bob B 01.12.08 at 3:17 pm

Harry – You may be interested to see the latest league table for local education authorities (LEAs) in England based on results in the GCSE exams for 16 year-olds in their local secondary schools in the summer of 2007:

The (London Borough of) Sutton came out top – again – but then the borough has a cluster of hugely successful “maintained” (official jargon for non fee-paying) selective grammar schools, the effect of which is to raise the average attainment for schools across the borough. Within a mile of where I sit, there are two maintained boys schools which achieved better results in A-Levels (for 18 year-olds) than Eton. Other selective grammar schools in Sutton also did well too although not as well as Eton.

For comparison, note the position in the LEA league table of Bristol – near the bottom. Secondary schools in Bristol are all “comprehensive” and untainted by the local presence of any selective grammar schools. Curiously, Bristol is a relatively affluent place – per capita Gross Value Added for Bristol was put at 31% above the UK average in 2005. The comparable figure for Outer London South (which includes Sutton) was only 88% of the UK average:
Table for NUTS 3-3 in:

Another inconvenient truth?


chris armstrong 01.14.08 at 11:36 am

Bristol is also a place where an unusually large proportion of people apparently send their children to private schools, of which there are some well-known ones in the city. I don’t know where the apparent vicious circle started, but there does seem to be such a circle including the steps ‘schools not seen as very good’…’wealthy parents (of which, as you say, there are unusually many) send kids to private schools’…’schools get worse’…that from anecdotal evidence may be more pernicious in Bristol than some other places. Is that a partial explanation? Or does it just point us towards a chicken/egg problem?


Bob B 01.14.08 at 1:16 pm

Whatever about Bristol – and I’ve no direct recent knowledge about the city – the explanation doesn’t account for (the London Borough of) Sutton’s regular posting at or near the top of the LEA league table for England since the league tables were started in the mid 1990s.

Data on household income distributions in the London boroughs, posted on the official website of the London Councils, shows that the parameters for income distribution in Sutton are close to the average for all London councils – namely, 21% of Sutton households have a household income less than £15k (compared with 22% for London); 53% have a household income less than £30k (53% for London); and 85% have a household income less than £60k (85% for London).

The percentage of Sutton residents with graduate (level 4) qualifications is above the average for England but below the average for London:

On the evidence, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the effect of the selective schools in Sutton is to raise average attainment across all secondary schools in the borough and that relative affluence isn’t a significant factor.


harry b 01.14.08 at 1:40 pm

bob b — I don’t know the situation in Sutton, and certainly I agree with you that there are excellent state schools, and even excellent selective schools (I guess if I thought there weren’t I’d give up). But the data you give only suggest selective schools as a possible part of the explanation, not an inescapable conclusion. Otherwise why don’t Kent or Buckinghamshire have the same excellent results?

Bristol has very long term problems which are, as you say, not reducible to the population it serves, and which has been addressed repeatedly without success. The experiment would be to see what introducing selective schools would do. My untestable conjecture is that getting Bristol to replace all their children’s service’s employees with Sutton’s would be more promising.


Bob B 01.14.08 at 2:55 pm

“Otherwise why don’t Kent or Buckinghamshire have the same excellent results?”

That’s an interesting and highly relevant question for which I’ve no ready answer.

Buckinghamshire usually does rate high in the LEA league tables although not as consistently so as Sutton. However, the more one digs into this the more puzzling the issue becomes.

Buckinghamshire is affluent by general UK standards, certainly more so than Sutton, while Kent is more of a curate’s egg.

One factor that’s seldom mentioned is population density – which is relately high in Sutton, as a London borough, compared with Kent or Buckinghamshire, which are far more rural. This means that schools in Sutton and their pupils are more aware of attainment in neighbouring schools, especially so since Sutton’s standing in the LEA league table is a perennial news item in the local press.

Another big puzzle is the differences in local spending per pupil on education. Fortunately, we have a data source:

It emerges that Bristol rates near the top in spending per pupil in maintained schools while Sutton is near the bottom. Evidently, the correlation between spending and attainment is low.

Btw the two local boys schools within a mile of where I sit and which do better than Eton at A-Levels are both hugely multi-ethnic. The contribution of any WASP factor to the excellence of Sutton schools is negligible.


tom hurka 01.15.08 at 2:47 am

CT readers will want to know that the highlight of Harry’s talk (its content aside, of course) was his wearing a George Formby Society tie.

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