Monday, September 03, 2007

Are there times when less is bad, more is good, less is good and more is bad?

This interest post from Norfolk Blogger made me think about a couple of related abuses of statistics.

The LibDems think that a reduction in the number of pupils eating school lunches is bad news and that the school meals service is in crisis. As Nich rightly points out, more pupils taking packed lunches is not a bad thing. It depends whats in the lunch box - I once saw a kid whose Mum packed him 6 Cadbury's Mini-Rolls for lunch but equally most pupils have a healthy and balanced lunch. It is simply not a statistic that you can draw many conclusions about and Nich is right to say that this was embarrassing for the LibDems.

But don't we see this all the time?

Some schools say that a low exclusion rate means good behaviour in their school. Not really, I'd rather have a school that will exclude to keep discipline than one who would rather keep disruptive kids in the classroom to keep their figures down. As a teacher, a low exclusion rate provokes two thoughts - either excellent discipline or a leadership team that won't support staff in maintaining discipline.

The same is true for crime statistics. Some say that low arrest rates are good. But doesn't it depend on how much crime is being reported and detected? Again, I'd rather have a police force with a high conviction rate meaning they were catching criminals rather than one with a low rate meaning they might be missing them or that people weren't reporting crime.

Politicians, on all sides, are too glib with these statistics. Sometimes the obvious reaction isn't the right one. High arrest rates and high exclusion rates can sometimes by good news for residents, parents and pupils.

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