Cambridge Analytica, Daniel Kahneman, the anti-Flynn effect and education

Roger Titcombe's picture

Every Facebook user should be aware of the business model of ‘free’ social media type services. It is to collect personal data and then sell it for the purpose of individually targeted adverts. If you interrogate Google, within hours you will get an advert on your Facebook page linked to your Google query. It is no use getting upset about this as it is in the Ts & Cs and has long been accepted

However, the Cambridge Analytica scandal crosses a new threshold in terms of the use of personal data ‘farmed’ from the likes of Facebook. You can view the Channel Four News expose here

The collection of sophisticated personal information to sell on to unscrupulous political campaign teams so that they then target emotionally tuned fake news and propaganda onto susceptible individuals to gain their votes would be a serious corruption of the democratic process – if it is allowed to operate it could become a fatal flaw.

The ultimate defence surely lies in having a well-educated population that is immune to such attacks. This is illuminated by the work of Daniel Kahneman and his identification of System 1 fast, gut thinking, and System 2 slow, cerebral thinking. This article links Kahneman’s powerful ideas with the failings of our marketised education system.

And this article explains why such attacks on the democratic process would be far less effective in countries whose education systems emphasise cognitive development rather than the passing of crude exams for market accountability purposes.

The Flynn effect is the well established pattern of national IQ scores rising over time in countries with effective education systems. The anti-Flynn effect is the name given to the more recent evidence that in the last two decades it has gone into reverse in a number of countries including the UK, with profound implications including that our national IQ could be in serious decline and/or that our national educational system and the ‘Facebook culture’ are now increasingly inhibiting the cognitive growth of our school students and the adults that emerge from our education system.

This recent article by James Flynn himself and Michael Shayer, both internationally respected academics, explains the issues.

In the last few decades of the 20th century, raw IQ test scores were increasing at about 15 points per decade. According to the Flynn and Shayer paper, they are now declining, possibly at an even faster rate, the turning point being 1995.

In the paper, Michael Shayer reports that the decline in the incidence of Piagetian Formal Operational thinking in the UK population is dramatically higher than the decline recorded by IQ tests. The following are quotes from the paper. Piagetian Formal Operational Thinking corresponds to Kahneman’s System 2 Thinking.

After our analysis, we will suggest two tentative hypotheses. First, trends on conventional tests show those at most risk of IQ decline are high school students aged 14 to 18. However, Piagetian results in Britain imply losses at earlier ages. Second, Piagetian tests signal something extra: conflicting trends between top scorers (those at the highest or formal level of cognitive development) and those in the early stages of the next level (concrete generalization). Large losses at the formal level may be accompanied by gains at the concrete level. We will argue that conventional IQ tests can show this phenomenon but are less likely to do so.

 The Piagetian results are particularly ominous. Looming over all is their message that the pool of those who reach the top level of cognitive performance is being decimated: fewer and fewer people attain the formal level at which they can think in terms of abstractions and develop their capacity for deductive logic and systematic planning. They also reveal that something is actually targeting that level with special effect, rather than simply reducing its numbers in accord with losses over the curve as a whole. We have given our reason as to why the Piagetian tests are sensitive to this phenomenon in a way that conventional tests are not. Massive IQ gains over time were never written in the sky as something eternal like the law of gravity. They are subject to every twist and turn of social evolution. If there is a decline, should we be too upset? During the 20th century, society escalated its skill demands and IQ rose. During the 21st century, if society reduces its skill demands, IQ will fall. Nonetheless, no one would welcome decay in the body politic.

 Since the Brexit referendum there has been considerable media coverage of socially deprived northern towns with a high proportion of ‘leave’ voters. These towns have been characterised by the government as having poor schools that have created an ‘attainment gap’. This ‘gap’ is in reality a mean cognitive ability deficit caused not by individual schools but by the marketised education system.

TV News programmes have regularly sent reporters onto the streets to do vox pop interviews with the locals. It is hard not to be shocked by the poor quality (regardless of the side taken) of popular responses, where thoughtful rationality is in dire short supply, and trite phrases unrelated to evidence, predominate.

It is also a fact that that it was overwhelmingly the less well educated sectors of the US population that voted for Trump. This fits with the likelihood that individually targeted social media propaganda is more likely to be successful with Kahneman System 1 (Piaget Concrete Operational), rather than System 2 (Piaget Formal Operational) thinkers.

Which is a powerful democratic argument for reforming the UK education system to prioritise cognitive development over SATs and GCSE testing designed primarily to drive the marketised school performance accountability regime brought about by the 1988 Education Reform Act, which preceded the 1995 date of the emergence of the anti-Flynn Effect by just seven years.

So what would such a reformed education system look like? This is the main subject of the articles on my website and the arguments and evidence presented in my book.

However, a strong insight can also be gained through the work and publications of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

There are two threads that are becoming increasingly dominant in EEF research into effective learning approaches.

The first is ‘metacognition’. This arises from Piagetian developmental, concept-based models of learning in which students are encouraged to explore their personal mental models of problems and phenomena and so refine and upgrade them. Einstein’s ‘thought experiments’ come to mind, although everybody at every age can develop their cognition through this process.

The second thread draws on the work of Vygotsky in emphasising the importance of the social context of learning and the power of ‘group work’ that requires the expressing, discussing, evaluating and challenging of the individual metcognitively created conceptual frameworks of the group members.

A recent article by Debra Kidd describes effective approaches to achieving this.

The following websites also promote and explain the sort of cognitively developmental education needed to increase the cognitive sophistication of the population and so defend democracy.

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 23/03/2018 - 12:28

This is a fast developing issue,  with very wide ranging political and educational implications.

See the comment by John Mountford on my website to my article (where it also appears)

This links to an important post by US education blogger, Nancy Bailey.

Jane Eades's picture
Fri, 23/03/2018 - 12:59

It is unfortunate that so many people repost articles which are very old or have been withdrawn, presumably because the accuracy has been challenged.  Perhaps checking information should be a compulsory part of every child's education.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 23/03/2018 - 13:26

Just because something is old, does not mean it is not true. If you wish to challenge the truth of something, then this is what you should you. If I have got anything factually wrong, I will want to correct it. I absolutely agree that healthy scepticism should be encouraged in everyone, including children.

John Mountford's picture
Sat, 24/03/2018 - 09:47

It is equally unfortunate that so many people comment under cover. Perhaps substantiating comments should be part of every blogger's education. Who are you Janee and exactly what is it you are trying to say? It would be great on an education blog if commentators agreed not to play games.

Jane Eades's picture
Sat, 24/03/2018 - 18:22

I apologise if my comment on Roger's original post has been misinterpreted. It was not posted as a criticism but as a rather less academic add on. I'm not sure, John, what it is that you are objecting to and why the level of aggression.

Jane Eades's picture
Sat, 24/03/2018 - 18:22

I apologise if my comment on Roger's original post has been misinterpreted. It was not posted as a criticism but as a rather less academic add on. I'm not sure, John, what it is that you are objecting to and why the level of aggression.

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 25/03/2018 - 20:21

I, too, apologise for my briskness. My frustration got the better of me. Quite inexcusable! The problem I have is knowing exactly what you are referring to by re-posting of "articles which are very old or have been withdrawn, presumably because the accuracy has been challenged." Details would enlighten interested parties (of whom I am one) greatly. Roger's original story is of the utmost relevance in the ongoing debate about how our education system is failing ALL our young people, and as he himself said, accuracy is something he (and I) value. Not all those who post on this site keep to the subject in hand, as you will no doubt have noticed.

agov's picture
Sat, 24/03/2018 - 12:52

“the Channel Four News expose”

Or should that be ‘more propaganda from Channel 4 Fake News’? –

“they then target emotionally tuned fake news and propaganda onto susceptible individuals”. Using their “Jedi powers” no doubt.

“unrelated to evidence”

And yet some seem so happily accepting of politically convenient claims from “a grade A bullshitter” when it fits their undoubtedly terribly well educated political self-interest -

Having, of course, fully researched the integrity of such sources -

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 24/03/2018 - 19:19

Things are moving fast. Having just watched tonight's Channel 4 News I can understand why those at the centre of the Vote Leave referendum campaign are now so concerned at how the crisis is growing.

agov's picture
Sun, 25/03/2018 - 15:23


ha ha - most amusing

But do keep up (with the selective hogwash). There's another load of twaddle from #carolecodswallop today - in writing so must be real System Twoie.

And still the tin hat brigade have no interest at all in public and police enquiries into boring old trivial irrelevancies like Cameron meeting Twitter, FB and Instagram to harvest data so young (Remain tending) people could be specifically targeted and told to register for voting in the referendum; and him then outrageously leaving the website open another 2½ days so those politically acute intellectual giants could register; or his illegal speech supporting the Remainiac hype during 'purdah'; or the tales of foreigners being illegally allowed to vote (Remain, 'natch); or the daily 7.30 am group calls from Will Straw co-ordinating (in an entirely legal non-co-ordinating way, obviously) Remain groups activities for the day; or why the Electoral Commission misleadingly told the High Court that it didn't advise Vote Leave that it could lawfully donate around £620,000 to a separate group (- as subsequently determined the Divisional Court); or the secretive group of foreign and ex-pat plutocrats funding the #soddemocracy activities. Those horrible facts, huh? Who needs 'em - so concrete.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 25/03/2018 - 15:43

But, what has any of that ranting got to do with the subject of my article, which is the (illicit?) harvesting of Facebook data and using it to target personalised messages at susceptible individuals? Do you object to my main premise that the education system should prioritise cognitively equipping voters ro recognise and resist individualised, psychological, social media manipulation? If you are making a more general point that electroral law is in urgent need of updating in order to protect our democracy from digital, social media subversion, then I agree with you.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 26/03/2018 - 09:21

agov - I appreciate your comments, always have done.  But I suspect you may be setting up a straw man argument by deflecting attention from Roger's main point to attacking the Observer/Channel 4 investigation.  Loved the description of the source by a Lib-Dem spokesperson as a 'compulsive bullshitter', though.    Much the same accusation was cited in the book written by prominent Lib-Dem David Laws.  Not directed at Wylie but Gove's consiglieri Dominic Cummings, the author of the linked long, very long, article attacking the Guardian, Observer, Channel 4, 'Remainiacs', hard-core Remainers, the whistle-blower 'with pink hair' (is that relevant? or does hair colour indicate dishonesty?).  But if Cummings believes that political campaigning doesn't work, why all the misleading briefings and press releases which came from the DfE when he was there?



agov's picture
Mon, 26/03/2018 - 10:46

You could perfectly well have made that argument in relation to most political campaigns and certainly both sides in the referendum. Your horror at ordinary people voting in their own interests leads you to entirely ignore the antics of the Remain side (e.g. the government asking app companies to insert free “register to vote” ads into their apps and only target demographics likely to vote remain i.e. da vulnerable yoof). The greatest manipulation came from Remainers and the Government's abuse of public money - concern over which seems to have curiously passed you by -

agov's picture
Mon, 26/03/2018 - 10:48

Sorry to disagree with you Janet but I rather think it's Roger who so often deflects attention away from his point(s) by, entirely unnecessarily, introducing his extremely one-sided political narrative and conspiracy theories into his education posts. You are of course entirely correct to point to lots of 'bullshitting' on all sides during the Referendum. Whether advertising actually has any effect, and if so what, and in what circumstances (e.g. does it particularly work when, say, introducing a new product to the market place) has been debated at least since the 60s. As to the specific point about the DfE, not sure anyone actually believed that stuff (- certainly not you) but (as with most political campaigns) it provided some sort of cover by giving people something to pretend to believe while actually just doing what they wanted to do anyway no matter what others pointed out.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 26/03/2018 - 11:39

agov, you miss the point about the invidually targetted Facebook campaigns conducted by Cambridge Analytica and associated organisations. Unusually, both the organisation being criticised and the critics are united in agreement that the methods they have developed do work (unlike consumer commodity products like facecream rather than facebook). Furthermore, genuine experts, not to mention that the political customers that spend £millions for the promised outcomes duly delivered, agree.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 26/03/2018 - 11:57

agov - unfortunately many people did agree with the DfE's misleading posts.  There's the usual suspects: ministers, New Schools Network, Toby Young who all did so much to spin data.  It didn't matter how much the UK Stats Watchdog criticised them - the juggernaurt rolled on.  That's because it was enthusiastically promoted by much of the media (and I include even the BBC Today programme in this - they ignored by email in December 2012 telling them Gove was using flawed data to 'prove' the UK had plummeted down league tables since 2000 (see my very first LSN post here).

As for the Referenudm campaign, now much in the news again, I wrote before the day that both sides were acting as if they were in episodes of Dad's Army.  


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 26/03/2018 - 12:38

agov - see recent edition of Private Eye which points out the hypocrisy of the 'self-styled whistleblower' Wylie who belatedly claims to be horrified by Analytica's 'wining and dining' Steven Bannon and his harvesting of data for 'successful Tea Pary' candidates.  The Eye admits Wylie 'has brought a welcome stash of documents into the public domain', it warned the ICO and the National Crime Agency's cybercrime unit to 'take some of his more outlandish claims with a pinch of salt'.  One of these, for example, was a Facebook post that Wylie made when the Referendum result was announced claiming 'We did it'.

It may be that Wylie is now poacher turned gamekeeper, or the sinner that repenteth who is welcomed more in heaven than 99 blameless non-sinners (a curious doctrine), or it may be, as the Eye reported, he's described as 'arrogant', 'fantasist' and 'narcissist'.   Whatever - the official investigations, we hope, should reveal the truth if that's possible.

Not that the truth would be accepted by those who described the Observer investigation in terms of 'scooby-doo', Jedi powers or just plain crap.  It will likely be dismissed as fake noos.

agov's picture
Tue, 27/03/2018 - 16:31

"both the organisation being criticised and the critics are united in agreement"

Truth by consensus then. They would, wouldn't they? One wants to flog their stuff and the other wants to scream 'we wuz robbed'.

What exactly is it you are now complaining about? That the winning side cheated or that they were smarter than the self-serving self-enriching self-regarding elite, despite having less resources - in particular the ability to abuse the entire resources of the state including the civil service not to mention the absurd posturing of the Bank of England? -

I take it you would be now happy to demand a police/public enquiry into such claims as 'the government asking app companies to insert free “register to vote” ads into their apps and only target demographics likely to vote remain'? Or would that be too one-sided?

agov's picture
Tue, 27/03/2018 - 16:33

"unfortunately many people did agree with the DfE's misleading posts"

Many recall what teachers and 'educators' of the Marxist Left did to the education system and children's life chances when they were able get away with it, leading to Jim Callaghan being forced to intervene (with all the consequences that have followed): they have not forgiven and many still, rightly or wrongly, remain desperate to get their children/descendants away from the sneering, condescending (perceived, shall we gently say?) indoctrination in state schools. Unlikely that any (conceivable) government will ever again allow that situation to occur. -

"For the billionaire populist, being rich isn’t a handicap. It can even be an asset. Research shows that in America, white working-class resentment against elites is often directed much more against professionals—lawyers, doctors, professors, establishment politicians, even journalists—than against the mega wealthy. One of the key insights of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is that educated, well-spoken, professional elites strike many working-class Americans as “alien” and condescending." -

"Wylie" -


"the official investigations"

What they? I wonder if this -

will ever get to some sort of official investigation.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 28/03/2018 - 09:49

Sorry, agov - but I can't let you get away with the generalised stereotype of the 'teachers and educators of the Marxist Left' getting away with ruining the 'life chances' of children in the 60s and 70s.  That's a myth.  Yes , there were a few bonkers cases (William Tyndale 1976) but very few schools were like this (that's why it was a scandal). 

I started teacher training in 1973 and began teaching in the late 70s.  Contrary to the much-promoted fiction that teacher training colleges were hotbeds of Marxism, my college covered the whole range of educational theory  from Socrates to Ivan Ilich via Arnold of Rugby, Thring of Uppingham and Dewey.  These weren't in depth - more like a lightning tour of educational thought (if it's Tuesday in March in second year it must be Hahn of Gordonstoun).  I regret there wasn't enough time to challenge these ideas in depth.

It's a myth that teachers were/are involved in 'sneering, condescending indoctrination' of pupils in state schools particularly those  from the working class.   But it's a comforting myth for those who fear young people being taught to think and question.  Much better to wrap this up in accusations of indoctrination (which is, in any case, forbidden by Section 406 of the Education Act 1996).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 24/03/2018 - 13:15

Or should that be ‘more propaganda from Channel 4 Fake News’? 

Silly gullible me - I just watched the video.


Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 28/03/2018 - 10:40

agov -  I have to weigh in with Janet here. I started teaching in 1971 and during the 70s and 80s I taught in three different comprehensive schools. One, where I eventually served as Vice Principal and Acting Principal (during a period of illness of the Principal), was one of the Leicestershire Plan 'ultra-left' community upper schools. Our two eldest children attended another, Countesthorpe College, probably the all time caricature of a lefty school. I had issues with both schools in terms of politicisation and more especially with teaching methods based on 'resource-centred (worksheets!) individualised learning'. There were indeed some 'way out nutty teachers', but these were also young, enthusiastic, formed good relationships with students, were generally effective and sometimes inspirational. There was never any 'sneering condescending indoctrination'. I saw much poorer teacher attidudes to working class students in the much more traditional schools of the time, that formed the mainstream.

Those lefty, Leicestershire upper schools had very few working class students anyway, having leafy, middle class, Conservative-voting catchment areas, many students from which did exceptionally well in terms of progression to top universities and professional careers. I regard myself as fortunate to have spent so much of my teaching career in such schools, as when I became head of a truly working class urban comprehensive, I was able to benefit from experiences few in the profession had had, while being able to reject flawed approaches to teaching and learning. After ten years service, Leicestershire County Council gave me (and many other Leicestershire teachers)  a one year, full-time, full pay,  secondment to the M.Ed Studies course at Leicester University, which very much changed my professional life.

As for the educational interventions of James Callaghan, they were as ill-informed as his political decisions were disastrous. A great deal of damage resulted on both counts.

agov's picture
Thu, 29/03/2018 - 17:32

Janet/Roger -

'The Institute', as the Left in the 70s (at least in London, but we all know that's the only place that matters, apparently) generally referred to London University's Institute of Education, was often and widely regarded as the intellectual home of Marxism in Britain. I vaguely recall a Times leader said as much (- such a long ago that I actually read The Times then, but sadly that was before internet records existed). I did not say that every teacher or school or teacher training establishment had fully signed up to the agenda. Nor that they universally succeeded anyway. Of course there were lots of examples of other things happening. Nonetheless the Gramsci programme (for want of a better description) was a very real thing.

I have never heard of this 'ultra-left' Leicestershire Plan but its existence and anonimity seems to contrast with the claim that such incidences were rare and hence 'scandals'.

"There were indeed some 'way out nutty teachers', but these were also young, enthusiastic, formed good relationships with students, were generally effective and sometimes inspirational."

I would not dream of disputing that. Even so, there is, at a minimum, still the obvious question of why teaching attracts quite so many ultra-leftist, wayout nutty people. What's the appeal? - Data mining, or modern, blatently agenda-led, never mind objectivity, 'journalism' hasn't existed long enough to have much appeal?

"much poorer teacher attidudes to working class students in the much more traditional schools"

Yes, but based on class snobbery (or sensibilities?) rather than political intent.

"very few working class students"

I did not say the middle class were granted immunity. In fact I'd guess it's in the middle class that antipathy to state education, especially in relation to the 'teaching' of political dogma, is greatest.

"There was never any 'sneering condescending indoctrination'.

The reality is that many consider that there was and is. Possibly it may be that schools are blamed for what the state force them to do. (I am always amused that Ofsted demands schools, in effect, teach a list of 'British' values as if there could be anything more un-British than making a list of such things.) Clearly though there are enthusiastic supporters of teaching a politically correct agenda. Some of the Guardianista 'Secret Teacher' pieces that I see are cringeworthy to put it midly. Section 406 is important, especially when people want it to be. Doesn't prevent what schools are ordered to teach. There continue to be allegations/reports of blatently political one-sided views - any immigration concerns are 'Nazi'; parents must vote 'Remain' or the lives of the infant children will always be bad; that the children's parents will probably be crying for their children because Leave won; teachers humiliating children because their parents voted UKIP. Things can be sneering and contemptuous no matter how unaware, reluctant, or embarrassed the individuals doing it may be. Perhaps it's comforting to suppose the entire thing is a myth: good luck getting us out of the current mess on that basis.

As to Callaghan, his only real disaster was delaying the election but then so did Gordon Brown with far less reason and quite probably terminal effects on the ex-Labour Party. You should be more grateful and respectful of the last ever proper Labout Leader and Prime Minister.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 29/03/2018 - 21:27

Within the Leicstershire Plan there were just three purpose built 'lefty' (as you put it) schools. See

Leicestershire County Council was a Conservative council.  There was a strong Quaker influence on the theory that was fully realised in just three purpose built schools, all in Conservative voting middle class areas. The ideology was certainly not Marxist - much more William Morris/Rousseau.

The idea of such comprehensive 14-18 Community Colleges won wide support across the political spectrum. They integrated adult education and community support within the school student poplation, which created a very college-like culture.

agov's picture
Fri, 30/03/2018 - 11:43

"'lefty' (as you put it)"

Me???? I quoted or referred only to what you had said.

Now you seem to be arguing against your own post.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 30/03/2018 - 11:48

That was careless of me, but I think this correspondence has now run its useful course.

AndyS's picture
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 08:37

Roger, I enjoyed this article but following up the Flynn and Sayer paper it is clear that the authors attribute developments since 1995 to other social factors, particularly what they call 'dysgenic mating'. I'm interested in your view on this extraordinary conclusion.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 12:46

Dysgenics is the study of factors producing the accumulation and perpetuation of defective or disadvantageous genes and traits in offspring of a particular population or species. The adjective "dysgenic" is the antonym of "eugenic". I agree with you Andy, that this is a controversial conclusion. First, it cannot be interpreted as implying that ethnically mixed parenting could be a factor, because the converse is the case. GL Assessment, who market Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs) are widely used in English schools. They avoid controversy by restricting access to their data, which is frustrating for researchers. However this 2009/10 report got out.

Page 10 contains a chart that confirms significant differences in mean CATs scores for different ethnic groups. However, in relation to 'dysgenic mating', the table also shows mean scores for children of mixed ethnicity. These are nearly always higher than the score for the lower group ethnic parent and sometimes higher than both groups. This confirms the increasingly accepted 'hybrid vigour' factor in human reproduction, which is explained by the reduction in likelihood of the chance inheritance of the same disadvantageous regressive genes the greater the difference between the individual genomes. In other words the greater the the degree of heterozygosity that the child inherits, the lower the chance of a disadvantageous gene pairing up. All such genes are recessive and so do not show in heterozygous combinations.

So if the chance of 'dysgenic mating' is reduced by mixed parenting, then it follows that it is increased by mono-ethnic parenting, but it must be emphasised that all parenting outside family groups make any such dysgenic outcomes rare.

More light on this is shed by a 2015 DfE publication by Professor Steve Strand.

On page 11 can be found the following statement.

"The very low achievement of White British students entitled to FSM is not just a feature
of educational achievement at age 16. Analysis of end of Key Stage 2 results at age 11
indicates that White British FSM pupils (58%) and White Other FSM pupils (56%) are
the two lowest achieving groups at age 11. Equally an analysis of the Early Years
Foundation Stage (EYFS) Profile at age 5 indicates that White British pupils entitled to
FSM (35%), along with White Other FSM (34%) and Pakistani FSM (34%) pupils are
the three lowest achieving groups.
While White Other and Pakistani FSM pupils achieve as poorly as White British FSM
pupils at age 5, many pupils in these groups have relatively limited experience with
English language (on starting school, or are recent arrivals in England with low fluency
in the English language (see Strand, Malmberg & Hall, 2015). When they subsequently
acquire this fluency they make rapid educational progress while White British pupils do
not. For example in their analysis of the National Pupil Database, Strand et al. (2015)
show that the EAL gap is largest in the EYFS at age 5 (Good level of development
OR=0.67) but more or less disappears by age 16 (5EM OR=0.90)."

On page 19, there is a table showing 'Percentage of students in each ethnic group by region, England 2013' The average of 'White British' is 72.3. The highest percentage occurs in the North East (91.6), which is also regularly targeted by the Sutton Trust, the Social Mobility Foundation and most recently the Schools Commissioner for England, as suffering most from the North/South 'attainment gap'. In contrast the percentages for London are 37.0 (outer) and 18.3 (inner). It is regularly pointed out that London schools produce much higher attainment for comparable FSM levels in the north of England. These data support the heterozygosity theory. All very controversial, but nevertheless interesting!

I recently wrote to the Education Commissioner for England about the alleged North/South divide educational attainment issue as follows.

FAO Anne Longfield

"Your report publicised in today's media reproduces the ongoing fallacy that I explain in this article, that I hope you will find time to read.

The basis of your argument is that children from economically deprived areas fail to maintain or build upon the gains made through successful government policies in primary schools when they move on to secondaries. The comparison is made with the London Borough of Hackney where levels of deprivation are similar, but secondary school attainment is much higher.

The comparison lacks validity because of the common, but false assumption that social deprivation drives low school attainment, that is accepted by both the political right and the left.

Part 4 of my book, 'Learning Matters' describes my research into the success of Mossbourne Academy and the Hackney Borough secondary schools in general.

The truth is that Hackney school students, like those elsewhere, perform on average in accordance with their cognitive ability as measured in Hackney, and a large number of other Academy Schools throughout London, by standardised IQ type Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs) taken in Y6, marketed by GL Assessment and used mainly to drive 'Fair Banding' based Admissions Systems.

The attainment gap illusion arises because these tests are not widely used in the poorly performing districts of the north of England on which your report is focused. My unique advantage is my experience as a Cumbria headteacher in the 1990s sitting on an LEA advisory group when the pupils in all the Cumbria schools also took the CATs, which were then provided by NfER-Nelson.

The Cumbria CATs data showed a clear link with social deprivation measures. The Borough of Hackney data, to which I had full (anonymised access) shows a parallel link, but crucially, the overall cognitive ability levels are much higher, as they are throughout the London area.

The truth is that former industrial white working class areas of northern England are characterised by astonishingly low IQ levels that are reflected in CATs scores in the few places where the data exist. For example, my headship school in the urban centre of Barrow-in-Furness had a mean intake CATs score of below 85 (-1 SD), and all probability still has, explaining the the ongoing difficulties of its successor, Furness Academy, which opened in 2009.

My school had an HMI Inspection in 1990, followed by OfSTEDs in 1995, 1998 and 2004 (this last a year after my retirement). The school failed to meet government floor targets in every OfSTED inspection, but this did not prevent a succession of good and ever improving OfSTED reports all of which were informed by the CATs data that were taken into account at every inspection.

OfSTED inspectors are no longer allowed to use such data, which makes little difference in northern schools where it doesn't exist anyway and in London schools where the CATs scores are much higher.

Your problem is that the base-line for school secondary school performance and progress measures is KS2 SATs. These high stakes tests produce inflated results because of their high stakes nature. There are also other flaws in the validity of the new measures that are discussed here and here.

You may find this unattractive to believe, so I urgently propose that you test my assertions by introducing CATs tests in a sample the northern schools serving severely socially deprived schools that are your concern. You could do this in current Y7 year groups. The results data that GL Assessment will provide will include predictions of the Y11 GCSE attainment profile for these pupils.

Although some schools certainly are more effective than others, I am confident that such predictions will on average be much closer to the levels of attainment that you are judging to be unacceptable in northern schools.

So if I am right what is to be done? The first essential is to abandon the high stakes SATs base-line testing regime and replace it with one based on CATs, which is a low stakes cognitive ability measure.

This will free primary schools to concentrate on the development of cognitive ability (plastic intelligence) in ways increasingly set out by EEF, that the DfE and many Academy MATs increasingly ignore.

The current high stakes SATs regime actually inhibits the development of cognitive ability. The result is that the more effort that you and DfE apply to the problem on your false model, the worse it will get, which is exactly what has been happening for the last 20 years."

So in conclusion, Flynn and Shayer are speculating that there could be a connection between the Anti-Flynn Effect, low attainment in white working class areas, and homozygosity.

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 22:24

Roger, I believe it is important to highlight the Anti-Flynn Effect in relation to your original article about Cambridge Analytica/Facebook. It was, after all, written in response to concerns over our democracy, protecting ourselves from exploitation and the vital role education has to play in this context. Cognitive development, as you and others point out, is central to everyone's ability to play a full part in society and to achieve their individual potential. This surely is the prime focus of an effective education system. Set against this is the threat posed by the prevailing reality, referred to in your letter to the Education Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield - "The current high stakes SATs regime actually inhibits the development of cognitive ability."

But the problems for our young people neither begin nor end with SATs.

I followed the link to the Flynn/Shayer paper. It was very enlightening. As regards the impact of dysgenic selection, they had this to say:

"It is true that at the end we speak of prospects over the 21st century in sociological terms but only because social factors look predictable while dysgenic selection concerning the future is harder to anticipate and measure."

I suggest that while dysgenic selection is certainly harder to anticipate and measure, it is not actually because social factors look more predictable but because they are in fact more malleable, affording us opportunities to change lives. If we accept this premise, specific interventions can be employed to craft learning opportunities and implement teaching strategies that actually promote cognitive development.

At the end of their paper, Flynn and Shayer have this crucial message to share with their readers:

"Capitalising on people's intelligence, rather than worrying about their intelligence, is the most important thing."

Is it time in our country to divert our attention from weighing the pig??

The simple prompt from Flynn and Shayer should lead us to change the variables that we know can promote learning that sticks, and enhances cognitive growth for all abilities. It is the only meaningful way forward. This is the reason we have to convince others to change the current education paradigm.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 05/04/2018 - 07:29

Thank you so much for this John. I absolutely agree with you and you put it so much better than I did in my last partially mangled comment.

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