The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

When Your Views Are Challenged

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 27, 2009 @ 09:55

What could this possibly be?

A few weeks ago, I wrote:

When the facts change… we need our politicians to be flexible enough to respond

The event that caused me to get all hot under the collar was the sacking of Professor David Nutt, because of his excitable views on the dangers of cannabis relative to its classification.

It turned into a rant about how we ignore evidence in policy-making at our peril.

Well, today, there is news that made me squirm a little…

Faith schools ‘strong on community cohesion’

screams the BBC News headline for this article, which claims that a study shows secondary faith schools have better marks from OFSTED on community cohesion. (Have I told you lately how much I hate OFSTED?)

Worrying. Very worrying.

People like me have railed against faith schools for years for the very opposite reason. I strongly believe that dividing educational policy and learning into schools based on faith is utterly absurd, on both moral and practical grounds. Morally, because it is wrong to label children as members of a faith when they have no choice in the matter; and also because of the dubious nature of such professed faith in the parents seeking to put children into a faith school; and practically, because of the needless duplication of resources to maintain such a system.

But now, it seems us anti-theists should just shut up. We were wrong all along.

Except, maybe there are chinks of light. Maybe evidence-based policy isn’t so clear cut.

The study found no difference at the primary school level.

The study was funded by the Church of England. Perhaps they got the result they wanted. I have no idea about the motivations of the Professor who led the research, but it would be wrong to accuse him of bias.

The careful selection of criteria is essential to getting a result. It seems OFSTED’s ridiculous school inspections now give them a grade based on “community cohesion”. Well. That is remarkable. A team of inspectors (often working in the private sector with a profit motive) drop in for a few days to a school. Suddenly, they become experts not just on the school but on the entire local community.

They must be pretty smart people.

Oh, and they base a great deal of their results on the school’s own “self assessment”.

Gosh, I wish when I’d done my examinations I could give myself a grade when I’d finished the paper. A*s all round, I think. To hell with grade inflation!

No, something’s not quite right about this story. The entire conclusion is based upon a small comparison of a couple of data points which themselves are remarkably silly. How on Earth can OFTSED possibly grade a school’s “community cohesion”?

This whole thing is typical of the nonsensical society we now live in, where everything is measurable and reduced to crude numbers, no matter how impossible the task. Even happiness.

Science has its limits. And when you step into the realms of pseudo-science, masquerading as an objective way of determining a desired outcome, we have to tread very carefully.

Maybe I’m living in denial. Maybe I’m a hypocrite.

But I won’t be convinced that easily.


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