Statistics, Schools and Fashion!

What use statistics?
At times, it seems the government rules by statistics. Is this a good thing? It seems to me you can prove anything you want to by the use of statistics. The clue is in what you are measuring and comparing with.

Years ago, when I was in the garment industry, we had a simple calculation for cutting patterns based on the average size of British women. So a basic block (size 14) would have a 36 bust, 28 waist and 38 hips. Patterns were graded upwards and downwards by two inches on these measures with necessary increases or decreases for shoulder, neck and other measurements.
But fashions change, and quite likely, since foundation garments are seldom worn, the average woman’s waist size has increased. More striking is the increase in bust sizes, especially when considering a bra’s cup. This makes a huge difference to both styling and cutting. I must say, at this point, that many dresses today are rather like (in appearance), the nighties I designed years ago. The very short ones just like ‘baby dolls’ that followed soon after the Lolita film.
(Nothing is completely new in fashion). When I was designing, clothes (apart from warmth) were to enhance the figure rather than reveal it so that little remained of mystery! I can assure you, wolf whistles told a girl she was alluring and seduction by design did not require half nakedness to be successful! (See picture – smooth lines to enhance the figure)
Back to statistics.
In order to get basic designs right, new statistics are needed for cutting patterns. But it seems that ‘choose your style then find a dress that fits — whatever the marked size’ rules the market.
Now look further afield. Statistics may tell us that the average household is in debt to £x,000. This annoys me. We have never been in debt and that is so for quite a number of people. The truth of the matter is that those in debt have far higher borrowing than these raw statistics tell us. As things are, it is ALL the population, especially the thrifty ones that will eventually have to pay the debt. Already they are losing out on interest on savings. Before long they will have to pay more in taxation, one way or another. We all sink or swim together, whether or not some have already paid for their lifebelt. What do statistics say about such matters? Nothing really, because we are now in the realm of sociology as well as financial affairs.
How about Education?
Millions are spent on exams to gain statistics of where pupils are at and if the system is working or failing. When I was training to be a teacher, exam performance was based on the normal curve and results were shifted to accommodate the fact that a certain percentage of the population has a very high IQ while at the lower end are those, possibly with brain damage, who have a limited ability no matter how much education and training they receive. In between the ‘average’ child. The curve was more or less constant and, it was suggested, exam results adjusted accordingly. Of course, it was recognised that, with the right education a child could improve considerably. However, it seems today that either there is a restraint on achievers or there are somewhat optimistic figures for what was once an ‘average’ ability pupil. Good that a lot of children who work hard get high grades. But is this because the exam system is at fault or are children either being taught better or is the population being born with a higher intelligence? Everybody can be a star may be true in life’s journey but it cannot possibly be true where exam results are concerned. I myself have an IQ above the average maybe, but I recognised that some of my pupils were blessed with a far higher one. I could never be a brain surgeon! Some children are gifted and others may try hard but are doomed to disappointment when the going gets tough.
What stats can do is show up weaknesses if tests are properly conducted — not under stress but more as part of normal classroom activities. Hence, a child may be found to need help with certain skills, or maybe a medical condition — eg hearing or sight loss, or dyslexia — may be discovered and necessary measures taken. Primary education is not the place to instil in pupils a strategy for passing exams. Stats concerned with the average age for various reading, writing and math skills, is only useful as a diagnostic tool to help seek out various weaknesses and pupils helped to overcome them. Sounds and words tests, based on statistical analysis can surely be of help here. (I found this to be so with a class of first and second year juniors, some of whom, having had extra help were not improving on their reading scores as much as I expected, After referral they each had a hearing problem, not great but enough for me to devise a remedial help plan.)
Now coming to all the stats concerned with good and failing schools, especially in Secondary Education . Panic among parents who want the best for their children. It seems to me the best these stats can do is point out where teaching and equipment can be improved, at the worst the focus becomes ‘personal’ and parents focus on the catchment area and desire to move, at great expense, to a school that has excellent exam passes. How does that make the rest of the pupils and families feel at such schools? I question whether the statistics should be made public the way they are. ALL schools should perform well for all their pupils. But exams are not everything. Academic subjects are not that important to children whose skills are ‘practical hands on’ and unfortunately the system fails these pupils. Years ago, development of such skills in a meaningful manner brought contentment and a sense of well-being. Not only are such skills useful when job (especially apprenticeships) seeking but also for contented (and economical?) living.
Mike Bostock has a comprehensive write-up of Educational Statistics on his new blog. Looks good to me. He explains things very well.

It seems to me that, like the stats used for pattern cutting, the ‘essentials’ have changed over time. Is this a good thing? Do children get better education or has society split even further?


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