Why do so many boys study physics?

Yesterday the Guardian posted the predictable story “Why don’t more girls study physics?”   This story cycles around every few years and it always annoys me. No-one ever asks why anyone should be studying physics; the assumption seems to be that there should be an automatic equality in all subjects. Well, fine. But there are many more unequal subjects.
For a start, at A-Levels boys only account for 12% of Perfoming Arts entrants. That’s nearly half of the proportion of girls who do physics (they account for 21% of entrants). And if gender equality is so important when was the last time you heard people bemoaning the fact that boys only account for 2% of childcare students? Or 20% of travel and tourism students? Or less than a third of all English A-Level students?
And then there’s the bleating about how science teachers spend all their time with the ‘outgoing’ boys. What I never understand with this is why science teachers in particular are any more likely to spend their attention on a lively year 10 male than is an English teacher – but, if they do, how can we account for girls doing English at such a high rate? We can’t, at least not via the tired assumption that the complexities of subject choice are about teacher favourtism.
Finally, the bit that always really really gets me is the ‘peer pressure’ argument. It just makes the women involved sound feeble and as if they can’t hack science because their friends aren’t there to hold their hands. And it’s not because I don’t think part of the ‘peer’ argument is true – I do. It’s just that I think a lot of kids make a lot of their decisions about education based on what their friends are doing, which is not entirely the same thing as ‘peer pressure’, and I also think that boys suffer it just as much as girls.  In fact, that only 2% mustered up the courage to do childcare may even suggest boys feel it more. So making out like it explains physics, when it’s a phenomenon that I expect affects both genders across most subjects is ludicrous.
What would be wonderful is if someone did an article looking at the subjects where gender isn’t an issue. History, Geography, German, Chemistry, Media, Business Studies all have roughly equal genders taking their courses. Why is this? Did students feel peer pressure to pick a class where genders are equal? How did that pressure manifest itself? Because maybe, if we think that gender equality in subjects is naturally important, then we could spread around a little more of what those subjects have been doing and quit it with the pointless physics hand-wringing.

Freedom of Information Release: CapGemini & Ofqual GCSE Fiasco Correspondence


Data Release is at the bottom of the page – scroll down if you know the background and want to jump straight to the info.

I noticed today that @kennygfrederick was tweeting information she’d received via an FOI request about the report CapGemini wrote for Ofqual in the aftermath of this summer’s GCSE Fiasco. Ofqual commissioned CapGemini to complete 100 interviews with heads/teachers about the discrepancy between their expected and actual scores so that Ofqual could ‘better understand’ the public outcry. After receiving over £140k to carry out the interviews, CapGemini’s findings were indeed used in Ofqual’s final report but the information was presented in a 3-page sparse summary in the Appendix. Sceptical that the full report from CapGemini was not released, headteacher Geoff Barton also demonstrated in several blogs how the summary didn’t dovetail with the experiences of people he knew who had been interview (see here and here for starters, though there are many more on his website).

Unsatisfied, Kenny Frederick – also a secondary school headteacher – requested via an Ofqual FOI to see the report CapGemini were contracted to provide. Her request was denied and she was told that beyond the information included in the Appendix: “There is no ‘other’ CapGemini report to release”
Undeterred Kenny asked again for (a) the correspondence between Ofqual and CapGemini, and (b) any notes/information that CapGemini had provided Ofqual about their interviews. This she got (albeit with the usual caveats and redactions).  To Ofqual’s credit, there is a LOT of stuff in this release and their redactions seem fair. Their willingness to be transparent when requested should be appreciated and commended. Yes, the FOI is the law, and it is therefore a citizen’s right to request and get this information, but I still think this release shows professionalism and a willingness to be transparent, unlike some other parts of government.
Did Ofqual use CapGemini’s information correctly? Well, you can see for yourself. Kenny very kindly sent over the information and has said it can be put here for wider viewing though I must stress that it was her tenacity that brings this information to light. The spreadsheet of notes about interviews at the schools is really quite difficult to read due to size of the text, but I reckon this is where the good stuff is. Also note that the documents are quite large so they may take some time to download.
1. Letter responding to Kenny’s request and explaining the redactions
2. Spreadsheet of notes from interviews with schools (text is small – zoom needed!)
3. Correspondence between Ofqual & CapGemini Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7
4. Whole Centre Sample List
Please do share any findings, it’s going to take a number of eyes to figure out this lot!

Think Like An Education Secretary: Gove's 2012 Reading List

Michael Gove is no stranger to literature. Not only does he constantly quote classic authors in Parliament but in a recent Spectator interview Gove lamented that he’d “had it up to here” with people arguing working class kids should be ignorant of the canon. After all, his self-confessed new favourite book – The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class – claims that in 1920s Britain working-class children read upwards of 70 books a year, so why don’t they do that now? (One can only wonder what might have happened if at the moment he finished his triumphant speech the interviewer had held up a small sign simply saying: “The Internet?”)
But that Spectator article got me thinking: What else has Gove been reading this year? Here’s what I’ve gleaned from speeches and a few other places:
1. Daniel Willingham – Why Don’t Students Like School?
In November, Gove namedropped Daniel Willingham during his widely reported “The One With The French Lesbians” speech. While Gove’s defense of European poetry was a quick headline, the actual thrust of the speech was that tests are good. In fact, they are so good, they provide a great big rush of adrenaline that children find enjoyable. But this fact of goodness wasn’t just based on Gove’s creepy memories of what got him excited as a child. No, it was science, and that science could be found in Willingham’s book. To his credit, Willingham wrote a response fact-checking Gove’s use of the book (in short: Willingham says hard stuff motivates kids but he doesn’t agree exam preparation inevitably does). Having been taken to task I wonder if Gove will lay off mentioning Willingham again in the future, but the book is still one to watch as  it is currently being passed around the education literati and for this reason I expect Stephen Twigg will likely latch onto it circa September 2013.
2. Jonathan Rose – The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes
Gove’s new favourite book is over a decade old and has been a staple of sociology and politics university courses for much of that time. It hadn’t, however, received a wider audience within education until Gove’s Spectator remarks. Rose’s detailed historical analysis shows how people of limited means have often forged their life’s path through self-education. Ironically, that very moral is actually represented in many ‘low culture’ tales. Think ‘Educating Rita’ or ‘Billy Elliot’ or Nick Hornby’s “21 Songs” and you’ll soon see that people have never forgotten (nor stopped wanting) self-education. Nonetheless, Rose’s offering gives lots of historical evidence, which Gove will like. And it’s hard not to get the warm and fuzzies when reading about people in horrible circumstances nevertheless finding themselves through the pages of a book.
3. ED Hirsch – The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them and Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know
A Radio 4 documentary about ED Hirsch opened many eyes to Gove’s fascination with another American author. Hirsch, a lecturer at a university in Richmond, Virginia, became concerned that his students did not know basic facts of the American revolution. In many ways, this isn’t as surprising as Hirsch makes out. US undergraduates inevitably have patchy knowledge because the US has no nationally agreed curriculum. But Hirsch was incensed, and particularly concerned that this lack of factual knowledge obstructed reading comprehension. In the same vein as an 18th century Noah Webster, Hirsch set out to write a list of all the things an American should know. Since then he’s developed a step-by-step curriculum now implemented in many US schools. Similar experiments are now happening among some primary schools here in the UK with materials developed by the Curriculum Centre.
4. AnnaMarie Tryjankowski – Charter School Primer
Gove’s Free School project is hotting up. 24 schools in year 1, 55 in year 2 and more than a hundred schools slated to open in September the idea of new schools governed by autonomous bodies is gaining ground. Academisation also means more than half of all secondary schools are now outside of local government control. But what happens next? If schools are autonomous who is responsible if they underperform? How are funding issues caused by surplus places resolved? What happens if a school makes a horrible financial agreement and needs bailing out? The US is much further down the route of ‘letting schools go’. The first free schools (known as ‘charter schools’) opened there in 1992. Tryjankowski’s excellent primer explains the varieties of application, accountability, improvement, recruitment and management policies used in different states. It’s only a small book but gives an excellent and entirely balanced overview of what has happened in the US and gives a heads up of what could happen in the UK. If Gove hasn’t read it yet, he should.
5. Brett Wigdortz – Success Against the Odds – the story of Teach First
TeachFirst are still the luvvies of the education world. In June the government announced that it was funding a tripling of recruitment numbers for the on-the-job training programme that takes people with demonstrated potential for being excellent teachers and trains them while working full-time for two years in a challenging school. In December TF also announced it would be going to Wales. Wigdortz’s biography of the organisation came out in September and though it is part-management-guru-handbook, it’s also a genuinely heartfelt and refreshingly honest read. Though the news shows that the programme came good in the end there are times when you can’t help but think: “How *are* they going to get out of this one?” Short, easy, fascinating, and illuminating about an organisation that is notoriously private.
6. Renee Vivien Poèmes 1901-1910
French lesbian poet. Obviously.
And a few books that Gove probably didn’t read this year (buts lots of others raved about)
Paul Tough – How Children Succeed
Known colloquially as “the Grit book”, Tough counterbalances Willingham and Hirsch by arguing that non-cognitive skills are more important than knowing facts. Perserverance and resilience are what really makes a difference in success and so must be developed in students. Hirsch, predictably, disagrees in his review of Tough.
Fabricant & Fine – Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake?
A far more slanted account of Charter School reform than Tryjankowski, Fabricant and Fine do an excellent job of laying out the history of Charters but add to this many of the tricky questions regarding funding, accountability and conflicts of interest once ‘Charter Management Organizations’ became involved. In the US for-profit companies can provide services to school or can even bid to run a school. The consequences, they argue, cannot be shied away from. It’s a compelling and thought-provoking read.
Pasi Sahlberg – Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?
Ah Finland. Where everyone is tall, and healthy, and well-educated, and happy. Why can’t we all be like you? In Sahlberg’s view we can. No league tables, autonomy given to teachers, excellent pay, no standardised tests until the end of school. Of course, Sahlberg isn’t daft. He realises there’s a need for accountability but he’s not at all convinced that high-stakes tests are the way to get it. The imagination involved in that very premise is refreshing if perhaps not realistic for England.

Is it a sport or not a sport?

For future reference: If you are ever in an argument about whether or not something is a sport, I suggest using the following chart developed over several days of non-stop Olympic-watching this year. Comments of course welcome but getting an amendment will require a truly strong argument..
(For clarity, the equipment is only referring to objects used during an actual match/race).
Is it a Sport

Why I loved (and worry about) FE College

Padgate College was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Like my high school, it no longer exists. Labour tried to shut it down when I (and my friends) were half-way through our first year because it was too expensive and performing poorly. Mostly it provided ‘day release’ A-Level courses for mature students but a few “young ‘uns” like me were allowed into its fold. Many courses, including the English A-Level I took in a year, were delivered in the evenings and because of this, plus its mature student intake, the pass rates were predictably low – about 19% – and the local council and/or college management (I never really worked out who) felt the cost of the place wasn’t worth it for such awful achievement. Thinking about how that looked on paper I can see how it seemed a sensible decision. But for me, Padgate was like heaven.
The A-Level centre was a converted residential hall in the corner of what was then a sprawling FE campus that included an art school, University of Manchester’s Sport Science and Media students, a Police Training school (Bruche) and “Stepping Stones”, a centre for people with learning difficulties and mental health problems. Every morning the canteen was alive with stereotypes: bobbies in their hi-vis jackets supping hot coffee, students with Down Syndrome working behind the counter learning how to count out change, sporty students hopping about in shorts while media students wafted by with dramatic outfits and pitchy voices. The library was university standard – and it was there I first learned about academic journals – prompted by my amazing Film Study tutor Alan Ellison who part-pioneered our entirely theoretical Film A-Level based on his own experiences of teaching undergraduates.  Psychology class had among its rolecall a young offender on remand, a man in his 40s with Post-traumatic stress disorder from a horrific car accident and Vinnie, our real live Schizophrenic. I use that term ‘real live’ purposely, because at 16 that was how I saw him. Up until meeting Vinnie mental health disorders were something I read about with grim fascination in library book whereas, in this complex learning universe, I got to sit next to a real, live Schizophrenic who would kindly and calmly update us on his episodes and brief us of any ‘extra’ guests sitting with him in class that day. On reflection I feel that sounds cruel, almost mocking, but that was never the tone of his dealings with the class or of our dealings with him. Padgate was just a place where people – of any and all varieties – learned together, and I loved it.
Beyond the diversity, the second best thing about Padgate was the timetable. Many students were on day-release from work so they squashed the lessons together as tightly as possible. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I was there from 8.30am until nearing 5, and with my evening class on Wednesday I didn’t finish until 9. But this meant that Thursdays and Fridays were half days and Mondays were gloriously free. In order to save for university I got a job working at McDonalds. For the first six weeks I hated it because I was useless at it. GCSEs were easy for me, but putting burgers and fries into the correct bag? Apparently that was impossible. One day I got yelled at violently for putting through an order of “Big Mac no mayo”. I was so embarrassed I cried through my entire 40 minute break. Apparently Big Mac’s don’t have mayo on them, they have Mac Sauce, and this mattered more than anyone could have expected. After six weeks of torture I wrote out a resignation letter but when I knocked on the manager’s office he wasn’t in. Sighing I put it back in my bag. Nine months later I was a floor manager and I stayed for three years. Life gets you like that sometimes.
Sadly, as transformational a place as Padgate College was for me and my friends, they succeeded in closing it after we left and transferred everyone to the uber-Warrington Collegiate Institute and exorcised the A-Level provision. We fought and fought for Padgate to stay open: writing letters to MPs, going on local radio, I even read every darn page of the local council education meeting minutes and dug out the laws on Curriculum 2000 in order to make my case, and this was before the internet was useful so I spent a lot of time poking around library vaults. The letter we received from our MP saying the college agreed to stay open for one more year so that we could complete our studies was priceless. The MP attached a letter from the Principal that read: “I have commended them on the well argued case they presented to us”. It’s not true, no-one ever commended us, but we got to finish our studies in peace and didn’t have the negative effects of moving schools half-way through our studies. Years later, when I taught Citizenship, I would show students that chain of letters as proof positive that children can and must stand up to adults who are trying to destroy their world without due regard for what that will mean.
It’s now 12 years on and it’s entirely unsurprising that I am studying for a PhD focused on the ways people open and close schools.  Schools and colleges can make or break our world, so while I’m thrilled that FE Colleges are getting their moment in the limelight and I hope this allows for the building of places for 14-16 year olds that will be as positive as mine I also fear it will be done without thought for what that world means to the young people, without due regard to the difficulty of operating such provision and that, if it doesn’t provide the solutions the adults want – if it doesn’t have the right performance stats or cost-benefit – then the attitude will simply be one of ‘close it down’ leaving some of the most vulnerable learners in an even more vulnerable position. I’ve seen it happen once before, I don’t want to see it happen again.

Questions That Should Be Asked at the Education Select Committee About KS4 Reforms

Tomorrow Michael Gove is in front of the Education Select Committee regarding the proposed reforms at KS4.  If I were in the room, this is what I would like to know:
Are the changes really justified on the grounds of this summer’s fiasco?
1. You have argued that problems with the GCSE in the summer show there is a need for KS4 changes. How do we know that the problems were not caused by incompetency within Ofqual?
2. How wrong would the regulator need to have got things before you felt it necessary to intervene?
The proposed structure of the qualifications
1. You are strongly suggesting that there will be one exam board. How will the tender process work for this?
2. Noting tender failure in other areas not easily tolerant of disruption, e.g. rail lines, what steps will you put in place to ensure the tender process is entirely transparent and fair?
3. What process will you go through to decide if an EBC subject should have a coursework element?  If the majority of favour among those stakeholders is for coursework, will those views be acted upon or ignored? (NB: if he said anything about ‘listening’ I would refer him back to the words acted upon)
4. There is still great concern that arts, social science and technical subjects are being pushed out due to the EBacc. There is no reason for the fifth GCSE to be solely History or Geography. For what reason can other GCSEs not be placed in that fifth box?  (If he says ‘rigour’, I would point out that on the CEM analysis many subjects are more difficult than geography or history; if he says ‘international evidence’ I would put out that every country also has civics/citizenship and PE up to 16, yet those aren’t in there; if he says something about ‘facilitating subjects’ I would point out that you don’t need geography to do geography at oxford, you do need music to do music though, so that argument also falls down.)

5. You recently claimed that teacher racism is influencing the decision to scrap the foundation and higher tier. If institutional racism exists it must be dealt with thoroughly. Will you therefore publish analysis on current GCSE data that proves this to be the case so that the issue can be tackled within schools as well as through the GCSE system. If not, why not?
6. Your justification document for the KS4 reforms talks extensively about the problems that low GCSE attainers face in their future life. Your only solution appears to be scrapping the lower tier paper, but that won’t suddenly mean those students achieve better. Do you really not have any policy for dealing with low attainers? (If he says something about Free Schools & academies, ask him what exactly is changing in their classrooms and are they going to be required to publish information about how they are achieving such successes so that all schools can benefit)
7.Why is Polish not in the list of language EBCs?  It is more economically important than Arabic and Italian (both included), according to the CBI report you quoted in the original report on MFL’s inclusion in to the EBacc, and it has a numerically larger population of speakers than Italian. 
8. Will community languages be included in the EBCs? (If not, why not?)
9. In effect, are the only reforms we’re actually going to see just: getting rid of modules in favour of terminal exams and the removal of tiers?  Is all this EBC confusion worth it just for that?