Monthly Archives: November 2013

The validity of online IQ tests

Boris Johnson’s recent comments have gotten everyone talking about their IQ. There are numerous tests to measure IQ, many of which are available online and used often. But are they scientifically valid?

One of the more interesting fall-outs from Boris Johnson’s recent speech is that he’s got people talking about intelligence and IQ a lot. This is likely a good thing. Intelligence is a tricky subject, so the more public discussion there is about it the better, in terms of keeping people informed. Because it’s not unusual to encounter someone who will mention having a high IQ without specifying why they think this is and what it actually means.

There are numerous IQ tests used by psychologists, such as the Stanford-Binet test, the Weschler Adult intelligence scale and so on. These are typically thorough tests designed to assess various different abilities via different types of tasks. They are regularly revised and updated, and typically have to be administered by a trained professional in specific conditions. They can also cost a fair bit, as they are actually scientific tools, like microscopes and the like.

Most non-science types outside the field of intelligence research won’t have access to these official tests though, so will have to look elsewhere. The obvious place to look is online, and sure enough if you type “IQ Test” into Google you get a lot of hits. There are countless free IQ tests online, and odds are someone bragging about their IQ got their score from one of these. But are they a valid, legitimate way of assessing your IQ?

Now I’ve taken on a lot of IQ tests over the years as it was somewhat of an interest of mine, what with coming from an underprivileged background in comparison to peers around me. I’ve done considerable tests of late and had a range of different scores. One particular test gave me an estimated IQ of 142. This score would suggest that I’m a genius. According to the normal distribution, that score puts me in the top 2% of the country. Not bad at 21 years of age I’d say.

I then did a similar IQ test on a different website. On this occasion, I got a score of 123. This puts me in the top 9% of the country, which still sounds pretty impressive. But there’s a problem. How can I be losing 19 points in an IQ test one after the other on two different websites? Something doesn’t seem right.

So I tried one last website just to see if I get a score somewhere in the middle. This website was slightly different though. It claimed that it provided ‘advanced feedback’, which is basically a glorified way of saying it tells you how many you got right, instead of merely giving you the IQ score like the two previous websites did. Well I did the test, and it returned a score of 139, which gave me a nice sense of relief that I’m back in the top 2% of the country again.

Ok so I’m going to explain what is wrong with all this. Firstly the range of IQ’s doing the same thing is quite a lot, which raises questions over the accuracy and hence validity of these tests. The next issue is the type of these questions. On all three of these websites, all the questions were multiple choice. You could basically guess the right answers, inflating your scores (albeit the odds of being correct is 1 in however many options there are per question). I am not a fan of multiple choice questions, mostly because I answer those quickly. Now it’s time to reveal what the advanced feedback came back with;

You got 5 questions right out of 15 in a time of 6 minutes. You received a bonus for finishing quickly. We estimate your IQ to be 139.

Basically what this said is I got 33.3% of the questions right (not great by my exacting standards), but my score was higher because I finished at a rapid rate of knots. So pace is reflecting on my scores. Is getting an answer wrong but answering it quickly really what defines our IQ? Is this what we should be teaching our children? No.

What does this mean for online IQ tests? Well it suggests they are not IQ tests at all, just some sort of web gimmick that obtains web traffic and people’s custom. The websites I used had adverts all over them, which is clearly how they are funded, and I doubt they would want to call you stupid otherwise you wouldn’t return to them.

Here’s my advice: There may well be valid online IQ tests, but tread carefully if you’re using them. And be wary of anyone who publicly shows off about their scores on such tests. An intelligent person would do no such thing, unless they are arrogant and conceited in which case you wouldn’t want to approach them …

Teacher who kissed pupil on date not struck off?!?!?!

Sadly we have yet another case of improper conduct appearing in the news. Only this one has a difference, which I find quite disturbing.

A Religious Education teacher who went on a date with a pupil and kissed her has been allowed to continue working in the same school. George Moore, 30, admitted bombarding the teenager, known as Pupil A for legal reasons, with dozens of emails including 20 messages on one day. The married father-of-one even met up with the girl during the summer holidays in 2012 and in August he took her on a date where he kissed her.

This is the disturbing part. Despite admitting seducing the girl he has been allowed to keep his job following a disciplinary hearing.

Mr Moore first met the girl who was a pupil at The Abbey School, Berkshire in January 2012. He was found guilty of professional misconduct following a hearing in Coventry.

The Secretary of State has spared him a classroom ban after hearing he was a “good teacher.” The hearing found that Moore, who taught Philosophy and Religion at the school, admitted sending emails to the pupil between January and June 2012. The report said: “Mr Moore admits to meeting with Pupil A outside of school on several occasions between 25 July and 8 or 9 September 2012. On a number of these occasions, others were present, including Pupil A’s father, Pupil A’s mother, and friends. Mr Moore also admits that on 8 or 9 September, he kissed Pupil A outside the cinema.”

Mr Moore also admitted attending a meal with sixth formers celebrating the end of their A-levels which was not sanctioned by the school.

The hearing found that Mr Moore became infatuated with the girl and even told her father he loved her. The report said: “The roots of the relationship between Pupil A and Mr Moore began from January 2012, when they began to exchange emails, the frequency of which increased over time. This was during a period when Mr Moore had pastoral responsibility for Pupil A, although we recognise that there was no sexual content or innuendo in the emails exchanged. However, shortly after Pupil A’s exams finished, the relationship between Pupil A and Mr Moore became formal: Mr Moore expressed to Pupil A’s father that he loved Pupil A, and Pupil A told her parents that she was unwilling to break her contact with Mr Moore. The intensity of this relationship leads us to conclude that Mr Moore failed to establish appropriate boundaries with Pupil A whilst at school, which led to the establishment of a formal relationship shortly thereafter.”

Head teacher Ken Moffat said Moore, who started at the school in September 2010, was a “very good teacher” and would be “devastated” if he was struck off. The panel ruled that a prohibition order would “not be a proportionate sanction” and said he was allowed to continue teaching.

I’m sorry, but this is exactly why some ‘teachers’ take part in such activities. We need to make an example of these people. If we let them stay in the profession, we are almost encouraging this behaviour. Moore should be struck off and so should anyone else who thinks they can get away with this. Makes me furious …

Scotland’s tuition fees if they get independence

Now I don’t normally read the Daily Mail, but I found this on twitter and laughed at the cruel irony of it so I thought I’d share it with you.

Students from England and Wales would still be charged tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year by Scottish universities following independence – while EU youngsters would continue to study here for free.

The SNP is in favour of the extraordinary charging regime – despite fears it flouts EU law and would discriminate against the English and Welsh. The unfair plan was buried in the 670-page blueprint for independence launched by Alex Salmond yesterday, sparking claims that he had produced a ‘fantasy’ manifesto.

The Scottish First Minister was dogged by questions about how he will get the Westminster government, Brussels, Nato, Buckingham Palace and the BBC to agree to his ambitious plans.

He launched his historic 670-page blueprint covering all areas of life in an independent Scotland, which revealed he wants the UK to continue to bail-out Scotland’s banks, shoulder its debts and fund degrees for its students.

And it spelt out in bizarre detail that shows like Eastenders, Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing and kids’ channel Cbeebies would remain on air, in an attempt to counter fears from TV viewers that they would be cut off from the BBC. (I love how they mentioned Cbeebies in here. All of us uni students watch that right?)

But it also revealed that an independent Scotland would charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not other EU countries. It emerged earlier this year that, according to EU law, taxpayers would face a bill of at least £140 million a year if Scotland becomes independent – to pay for students from the rest of the UK (RUK) who would then be able to study here for free.

Under the current funding system, EU students are entitled to ‘free’ higher education in Scotland while English, Welsh and Northern Irish youngsters pay up to £9,000 a year.

The anomaly has caused controversy as critics say the rest of the UK (RUK) are being discriminated against.
But if the UK were broken up and Scotland retained its EU membership, then – according to EU law – RUK students would also be entitled to degrees for which they would not have to pay, as they would be regarded as foreign EU citizens.

The lost income could amount annually to at least £140 million, according to latest estimates. The independence blueprint published yesterday reveals the SNP plans to continue to provide ‘free’ degrees for native Scots – but only by keeping tuition fees for RUK students.

Critics say this policy runs against current EU law and is inherently unjust, because RUK youngsters would continue to be forced to pay to study here, while other EU youngsters would still be exempt from fees. University bosses, who have vowed to remain impartial in the independence debate, welcomed the SNP’s approach last night and claimed it reflected legal advice they had received earlier this year. But Mid Scotland and Fife Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson said: ‘This would be an entirely discriminatory policy and I cannot see how it would possibly comply with EU law. If there is legal advice, we need to see it now. If it were possible to charge EU students coming to Scotland, why aren’t they doing it already? The answer is that, legally, they can’t.’

Earlier this year, Alex Salmond said: ‘I’m not worrying about having more students studying in Scotland, but we can maintain the current arrangements, which are apparently fair; that’s the advice we’ve got.’

At the time, critics accused Mr Salmond of an unaffordable policy ‘predicated on denial’ of basic facts.

The White Paper repeats the SNP’s claim that RUK students should be made to pay to study here. It states: ‘The Government believes that continuing to charge students from other parts of the UK is the best way to achieve this balance, recognising that there is a long history of substantial numbers of students from elsewhere in the UK coming to Scottish universities to take advantage of our high-quality education, our common language and the parallel system of educational qualifications that make Scotland an attractive place for them to study. These students would pay substantial fees if studying in their own countries. We believe that in an independent Scotland it will be possible for an objective justification for this charging regime to be established.’

Taxpayers are footing a bill of around £25 million a year to pay tuition fees for EU students in Scotland.
The number of EU students has risen in the last year but there are fewer Scots, according to recent official figures. The bill for students from elsewhere in Europe has roughly quadrupled from £6 million a decade ago – and is up from around £14.3 million in 2007.

The SNP has pledged to find ways of curbing the bill but EU legal obligations have so far blocked their attempts, rendering the commitment meaningless – and undermining the new plan to keep charging RUK students.

The latest row also comes amid growing concern that Scots are being frozen out of their own campuses as a result of a sharp rise in the number of fee-paying students. A spokesman for the Universities Scotland higher education umbrella body said: ‘It is important to universities that arrangements are in place which support the cross-border mobility of students in sustainable numbers. We welcome the Scottish Government’s view that arrangements could be developed to manage this, which builds on legal advice we received earlier this year. We will need to engage with the Scottish Government to ensure robust arrangements are put in place.’

Brian Cox on science cuts

I find this guy fascinating to listen to … does that sound weird?

One of Britain’s leading science personalities has said government plans to cut hundreds of millions in science funding and grant provision to poorer students are “nonsensical”.

Professor Brian Cox said that proposals by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) to slash science funding by £215m over two years and convert £350m of student grant payments into loans would damage a national priority.

“The future of our economy essentially rests on an investment in students … Virtually every [developed] country in the world knows that,” Cox said.

Recently revealed by the Guardian, the swingeing budget measures that are expected to take effect from next year have in part stemmed from over-expenditure on supporting students in the private college sector – a cost which has trebled in the last year to £175m.

On Tuesday night, the department confirmed that it had initiated a leak enquiry after high-level documents detailing rangeing financial measures, some of which are awaiting approval from Nick Clegg, were passed to the Guardian.

Cox said that if the measures were the result of a budget “cock-up” – with millions more diverted to private colleges than expected – then it would be wrong to divert resources away from a “national priority”.

“Policy should operate for the good of the country … the decision has been made at a high level, correctly in my view, that science and research in general and higher education should be a priority. George Osborne… David Cameron, David Willetts, Vince Cable, everyone agrees that investment in higher education is considered a priority. Everybody agrees that. So when you make accounting errors even of this scale, then … it shouldn’t be the case that you say to BIS: ‘Well, it’s your cock-up, you deal with it.’

“We’re talking about a national strategy … and that’s the language that’s been used … Once you’ve said that and once you accept it, then if you making an error in another area, then it’s a cross-government problem … it’s not a single department’s problem … this is a national strategy.”

Former Labour minister Alan Milburn, the coalition’s current social mobility adviser, warned the grant cut could deter the poor from getting a degree. Milburn said that restoring student grants had been part of the coalition deal that allowed parliament to treble tuition fees in 2010. “A reasonable level of student grant was supposed to remove any financial barriers for lower income youngsters from applying to university,” he said.

He added that “even before any proposed cut in the value of the grant there has been a big drop in mature and part-time students applying to university”.

“The risk is that this proposal increases confusion and ends up deterring the very cohort of students ministers say they want to attract into higher education,” he said.

Labour said it would table a series of parliamentary questions to discover what ministers knew and when, and whether they were warned about the risks of students at private colleges “soaking up” public subsidies. Shadow higher education minister Liam Byrne added: “Ministers must confess now if they were warned that their free market experiment would damage Britain’s public universities. We cannot have a situation where science and students are forced to pay the price for a toxic combination of dogma and incompetence.”

One of the most outspoken student critics of the government, the president of the University of London Union (ULU), Michael Chessum, said that students were facing a debt-ridden future and called for students to organise protests against the plans. “These cuts are the result of a government that cares nothing for public, accessible education and everything for an ideologically driven and chaotic market model – implemented with some truly spineless Lib Dem co-operation. The future that our education system is facing is debt-ridden, marketised and exclusive, and we must organise a national-level movement to prevent nightmares from becoming a reality.”

Lobby group Science is Vital said it was extremely concerned by the reported budget plans and said it would fight any attempt to drop the government’s commitment to a ringfence of science research budget.

A statement on the group’s website said the possibility of cuts would come as “a major disappointment to researchers across the country” who have already “weathered austere times”.

Biologist and chair of Science is Vital, Dr Jennifer Rohn, said: “The government has talked about making Britain the best place in the world to do science. It needs to make good on that promise. In March we, together with over 50 renowned scientists, called for a long-term increase in science funding to 0.8% of GDP to ensure the future of science in the UK. BIS must find ways to meet its obligations to research by maintaining its promised funding in the short term, and in the long-term, by increasing it.”

Student life: share economies everywhere!

Stuff, as all students know, is expensive – and the simple answer is to share it.

Wherever you look these days, you can find examples of the “sharing economy”. People are sharing tools, transport and living space – there are even apps to help you share clothes with your friends. The online collaboration of people choosing to back a project with donations has brought to fruition ideas from the Pebble watch to a new series of Veronica Mars.

The ability of humankind to collaborate effectively was what allowed us to thrive in the first place, and students should make the most of it. Sharing, both directly and through internet platforms, can be highly advantageous when it comes to saving time, money and energy.

Let’s take books as an example. University libraries contain the vast majority of core textbooks. However, they often possess only a few copies of each. You can bet that those who seek out the reading list before the introductory lecture, and those who are the most familiar with library classification systems, will sign out the only available copies on long-term loans. Everyone else is faced with buying a book each. One option would be to visit the local public library, where it is possible to request books which they can order in and anyone can rent out with a library card.

A more sophisticated plan is to find a group of students who are happy to buy different core texts and share them between the group. And the group’s ambitions needn’t end there. You could divide the set reading between group members, get everyone to summarise what they’ve read, and make the notes accessible via a Google group. You can also share PDFs, journals and web resources with one another, creating a vast online revision resource several times larger than could be achieved on your own, and for a fraction of the cost.

Sharing food, and cooking, is always contentious in student houses, despite the obvious benefits. Sharing individual items – such as milk, bread and butter – is probably the trickiest choice, especially in my house where he have the milk wars over blue or green labelled milk (green milk all the way!). Somebody buys more than the rest, somebody uses more, and they are rarely the same person. Better, though still not foolproof, is for everyone to put money in a kitty that can be spent on every day essentials. However, meal sharing is fantastic for reducing costs, saving time and building a sense of community in a student house. Draw up a roster, and don’t forget to specify the washer-upper. I personally wouldn’t choose this option unless my entire house had the same tastes as me, which never happens because I’m a cheap and cheerful type of guy …

The boring bits which make a house run smoothly are exactly the things parents fret about most when they first drop you off at university. You’ll have been loaded up with cutlery, pans, sweeping brushes and colanders. It soon becomes apparent that all your fellow students have turned up with much the same stuff. Now you have six colanders to fit in one cupboard. It just takes a bit of pre-planning to sort this. Parents should be assured that you will go on a group shop with housemates as soon as everyone arrives. That way, everyone can make an equal contribution.

But it’s the big stuff that can be an issue. Larger appliances, like televisions and hoovers, are often missing from student houses because no one wants to buy them. Jonathan, 22, has just graduated from Newcastle University. In his third year, he and his housemates found a way to solve this problem. “None of us could afford a TV at the start of the year. So we divided the cost of a 42-inch television, and agreed that I would buy the other two out at the end of the year when in a better financial position. Knocking off about £20 each for the slight depreciation, I then had TV to myself to take home.”

For the basics, online resources are becoming increasingly popular with students. Sites like Gumtree, Craigslist and Freecycle offer cheap or free second-hand goods from people in your local area. Other sites are available of course, wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m biased (I don’t actually use any of these myself personally, all about Amazon for me) …

All of this leads to one simple conclusion: sharing is caring, and particularly sparing on your wallet (oh yeah, nailed a rhyming triplet for all you English teachers out there). Share economies in an ideal world make student life so much easier. Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world so some of these get neglected. Ah the pain of society sometimes.

Cute cats key to learning languages?

I’m sure most of us who have access to internet in this day and age (me included) have seen rather amusing photos of cats for entertainment, but there may be a possibility that it can be used for other things slightly more practical and purposeful.

Funny cat photos and videos have become an online fascination in the last few years and have even created “superstars” like Grumpy Cat and Nyan Cat. One is a real-life miserable-looking moggy who has more than 2.5 million Facebook fans; the other is an animated kitten whose rather unimaginative journey across a screen has been viewed more than 100 million times.

Now, one app developer thinks it can tap in to this trend and use cute cat photos to improve people’s memory function when learning languages.

Memrise analysed data to see what helped their members retain information. The company discovered an interesting link between the funny photos and people being able to recall phrases. The team studied the results of memory tests to work out which photos worked best.

“We wanted to know what kinds of visual mnemonics were most effective at helping people to learn fast,” says Ben Whately, chief operating officer at Memrise. “The pattern began to emerge that pictures of cats always featured disproportionately among the most effective,” he says.

Using this research, the company developed CatAcademy, an app that shows photos of cats in humorous poses and displays a corresponding phrase in Spanish.

The company cites research from Japan, which describes the relationship between cuteness and improved cognitive function, to explain why this method is so successful.

Ed Cooke, is the co-founder of Memrise and in 2004 became a Grand Master of Memory. To win this title he had to memorise 1,000 digits in an hour, 10 randomly shuffled decks of cards in one hour, and be able to memorise one deck of cards in two minutes or less. “It’s quite a boring process learning lots of information but the art of memory is the art of using information,” he tells the BBC.

“We learn through interesting imagery. You use your imagination in a powerful fashion.”

The company has been providing language learning applications for three years and claims to have helped more than a million members pick up new linguistic skills. Their products already use images to teach but this is the first time that only cats have been used.

“The most popular images on our site were cats. We put this down to the internet’s obsession with them but what we found is that a cat’s cuteness means you really pay attention,” says Mr Cooke.

The team at Memrise crowdsourced the photos for the app and decided to advertise for the post of Director of Cat Meme Creation. They listed all 1,000 phrases they were looking to illustrate, on Tumblr, and asked people to upload their funniest photos. There was certainly plenty of choice.

The last few years has seen the rise of the cat-meme, funny images posted online with an accompanying phrase. Whole websites have developed dedicated to these funny feline photos. icanhascheezburger is one of the biggest with more than 40 million hits a month.

“For the past 10,000 years we’ve been biologically engineering cats to be weapons of mass cuteness,” chief executive Ben Huh tells the BBC. “They are more complex and expressive than dogs, so they have remained the king of the internet.”

Mr Whately says the popularity of these sites got the developers thinking. “How can we use people’s internet obsession with cats? That’s what technology should be asking, and taking advantage of it to help people learn,” says Mr Whately.

But will apps like CatAcademy really make a difference to the way people learn?

The more visual the impact and the less it is surrounded by words the more effective it will be as a learning tool says educational psychologist Barry Bourne. “It should be simple and not too complex. Humour and visual impact are important, they’re the ideal combination. Looking around at things I see on the internet and in adverts they are arresting people’s attention.”

It may be that the internet cat-meme craze is entering its next phase as a tool for providing more than just laughs.
Ed Cooke certainly believes that this is the case and has high hopes for future apps. “The utopian scenario is that we develop a way of learning languages that works and is authentically hilarious,” he says.

Is the handwriting on the Facebook wall?

Swedish schools are considering whether to abandon the teaching of handwriting. They will continue to teach block capitals, but the subtleties of cursive writing will no longer be transmitted outside the elite. Anyone else think this will lose one of the most wonderful cognitive tools ever invented? Handwriting helps you think. The physicality of it makes the associated mental processes clearer and more memorable.

This kind of argument is quite wasted on educational bureaucrats, for whom the question is whether children can learn to type faster and more clearly than they can write by hand. After all, there’s no call for handwriting in most jobs today, any more than there is any requirement for independent thought.

I don’t think there is any doubt that a trained typist can type faster and more legibly than it is possible to write in longhand. Nor have I ever found any kind of handwriting system that lets me communicate quickly and accurately with a technology or a computer (I do brain training on my 3ds and it thinks a 3 is a 7 on my handwriting). The nearest thing would be the phone keyboards that let you slide a finger around them instead of striking individual letters. In any case, they lack all distinctiveness. That’s an asset if you are feeding into machines. But the point of handwriting is not to communicate with machines. In some sense it’s not even a means of communication with other people. It is valuable because it distances us from machines, and makes our output both more precise and less predictable.

There is so much more encoded in a handwritten page than in something typewritten. The archives of metadata that Google or the NSA can collect around our words cannot match the variety and depth of associations that my handwriting reveals to me. It may not be apparent to anyone else, but the purpose of private thought is not immediately to be shared.

Handwriting is the expression of all those aspects of personality that cannot be shared or even glimpsed on Facebook. Handwriting is what I turn to when I need to discover thought – the pen, like a divining rod, moves in my hand towards something I can only feel and not yet see, especially when i’m working out some maths calculations.

This is partly because it is so much more complex an action than typing. That looks like a drawback, but we are physical, embodied creatures, and need to use muscles when we think properly. Just as walking is much better than sitting still if you want to work out a difficult problem, so does the varied co-ordination required to write cursively drive thought more efficiently than simply moving fingers up and down on to the keys.

It also captures the disconnected and chaotic ways in which real thought emerges. A handwritten page can have loops, insertions, deletions and marginalia in ways that computer software really finds hard to emulate. It works against the false simplistic certainties of PowerPoint and for that reason alone is a skill that all democracies should teach.

Teacher training shortage? Leave it to the universities!

Well don’t we love a good story about teacher recruitment, especially when it comes from the Department for Education. Well … someone who used to work for them anyways.

School Direct has become the new way to get more people to sign up to become teachers since the new government took power. Well guess what folks? The ex-top civil servant, Sir David Bell has admitted that Universities stepped in at the eleventh hour to prevent a teacher trainee shortage, which the government claimed wouldn’t happen.

School Direct was allocated 25% of all the recruitment of teachers on an annual basis, with PGCE course taking over half the allocation as usual, with only 17% of places allocated to undergraduate courses such as the one I study at the moment. This meant that School Direct had more places given than undergraduate courses, yet only around a third of the places allocated to School Direct were filled.

As always there’s always an excuse. The Department for Education claim that the allocations were set over and above what was required. However, the new figures show School Direct recruited just 68% of its allocation of 9,586 – representing 20% of the whole pool of teacher trainees in England – rather than its 25% allocation. Whereas universities filled all but 255 of the 26,785 training places they were allocated.

Sir David, who is now vice-chancellor of the University of Reading, said: “The cracks have been papered over thanks to universities stepping in at the last minute to take on unfilled places.”

But he added that there was still a risk of shortages next year. “We’ve got to ask some serious questions about schools’ capacity to take on even more trainees next year, when they fell short this year”.

Ministers are expected to increase the share of School Direct allocations to 37% next year. But some universities were thinking of moving out of teacher training completely, Sir David said, “removing that potential safety net”.

It was “worrying” that higher education was being “further squeezed out” next year, when there were “still risks of real shortages in key subjects”, he said. And he added that it was “perverse that university courses which have trained high-quality teachers for years” were being “choked off”.

Sir David said his own university was given low allocations in core subjects this year, but then local schools were unable to fill some of their places through Schools Direct, so the university asked the DfE if it could take some extra trainees.

“It is fine to create a range of training routes but not at the expense of good, proven providers – it’s tantamount to cutting off your nose to spite your own face,” Sir David said.

Expert in teacher recruitment, Prof John Howson, backed up the former permanent secretary’s claims saying: “Schools Direct has under-recruited pretty comprehensively and they have been bailed out by the higher education sector. But it it has meant that in certain subjects we have seen a downturn in the number of places filled.”

This is most acute in design and technology where the places filled have fallen to 48% of the target. Computer science is also badly affected and is down to 57%.

Prof Howson said: “This is disastrous from the point of view of the new demands for children to learn computer coding from the age of five.”

And he pointed out that arts subjects, such as history, had been allowed to over recruit by 143%.

“Schools Direct has not been a runaway success for training places as opposed to the general teacher programme,” Prof Howson added. His main concern was the teacher supply situation at this stage of the economic recovery, he said.

A Department for Education spokesman denied that universities had stepped in to prevent a shortage. “We do not expect to fill all places – that is why we always allocate more than we need. If the allocations are not reached it does not mean there will be a shortage of teachers. Together schools and universities have reached 99% of our overall target for postgraduates. School Direct is a response to what schools told us they wanted – a greater role in selecting and recruiting trainees with the potential to be outstanding teachers.”

A Universities UK spokesman said: “With this under-recruitment via the School Direct route, universities requested to take some of the unfilled places, but often these requests were turned down.”

He added that many universities have had to turn away good candidates this year. This could not make sense, he said, while School Direct places go unfilled. “Of particular concern is the below-target recruitment in key subjects such as maths, physics and modern foreign languages.”

He added that one of the issues was that while schools are closed during the summer holidays and unable to recruit more trainees, universities are still able to recruit students through their admissions departments. Universities UK is calling for the DfE to make it easier for universities to take on unfilled School Direct places in the future.

Educating Scotland?

The masterminds behind Educating Essex in 2011 and Educating Yorkshire this year have settled on making a series up north of the border to Scotland.

Originally, TwoFour had wanted to look at St Joseph’s Academy in Kilmarnock, but after the team visited earlier this month, the headteacher decided to pull out due to concerns about the massive time commitments and the amount of access that the TV crews would need.

What this means is that the hunt for the school is back on, with schools all across Scotland under consideration. Educating Yorkshire was broadcast on Channel 4 earlier this year and followed the fortunes of Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury.

The fly-on-the-wall documentary followed pupils and teachers through their daily highs and lows in class.
It was commissioned after the success of original show Educating Essex, which won a BAFTA.

An insider at Plymouth-based Twofour said: “We contacted several local authorities in Scotland to ask if any of schools would be interested. A number came back asking for more details, including St Joseph’s in
Kilmarnock. We went to the school and spoke to the headteacher but they felt it would be too much to commit to and the filming would be too invasive. We’re now following up a few leads with other Scots schools but wouldn’t rule out going elsewhere in the UK if we can’t get a school up north.”

Graham Short, East Ayrshire Council’s education director, said: “St Joseph’s was approached regarding filming in the school and the headteacher consulted staff and parents regarding the project. Following that consultation, the decision was taken not to proceed.”

I would love to see an Educating Scotland, especially as Educating Essex and Yorkshire both quashed a lot of very typical stereotypes of those areas, such as the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype. I would love to see the pies and lack of fruit stereotypes that exist about Scotland. I can’t wait!

A new inspiration

I found this quite fascinating whilst watching the news earlier.

A team of amateur radio enthusiasts have launched a tiny satellite into space in an attempt to inspire our schoolchildren to become the scientists and engineers of the future.

The satellite, given the name Funcube, works by sending and receiving messages as it orbits the Earth. In the not too distant future, schools will be able to download data from it directly into the classroom.