Education, Genetic Explanations

Gender based learning difficulties – why do many more boys struggle than girls?

Boys Learning Disabilities

Sian Griffiths, writing in The Times recommends that you should  “Give your son a leg-up: treat him like a girl.”

According to this article it is parents who are mostly to blame for the lack of educational attainment in their sons.  The rest is caused by a gender-biased society influencing academic achievement.

Ms. Griffiths and the authors of this study seem to be keen advocates of the flawed “blank slate hypothesis”.  This believes that who and what we are as individuals is solely dictated by our environment, education and upbringing.

This article notes two phenomena:

  1. There is a difference in the rate and level of educational attainment between the sexes, with many more boys struggling at school than girls.  This is not new.  We’ve known this for decades.
  1. Parents treat male and female children slightly differently.  Again not new.  We’ve known this for millennia.

However, in a startlingly unscientific and unsubstantiated way they have rammed these two phenomena together and assumed that they are causative.  Not only that, but they have assumed that the way parents treat boys affects their educational attainment.  There is no reason why they should not have chosen the equally unverified and unsubstantiated assumption that parents treat boys differently because their educational attainment is different.

Both assumptions are demonstrably untrue.  Identical twin, sibling twin and adoption studies have conclusively proven that the primary factor driving intelligence and academic achievement in a modern, progressive, relatively socially mobile environment (such as the UK) is genetic.

There is also a demonstrable genetic difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  Not only do girls mature mentally and physically before boys but there is a difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  There are many more males than females with learning difficulties and many more males of very high intelligence than females.  The average intelligence of both sexes is broadly similar.

The references cited below have separated out what is caused by inherited DNA sequence and what is caused by everything else.  So we know these differences are not cultural.  Additionally, this article deals with the extremes.  There is no controversy that there are more males than females with learning difficulties.  This article refers to a million boys over the last decade who have fallen behind.  This is the extreme “left tail” of the standard distribution curve of male intelligence.  These results are what we would expect to see.  We have known about this issue since at least 1932.

If Ms. Griffiths wants to be taken seriously as an educational journalist, she should refer to the proven differences in educational achievement caused by genetic inheritance to ensure balance in her writing.  After all, the “blank slate hypothesis” has been comprehensively discredited so she needs to find another explanation for these differences.

It seems that political correctness continues to overcome scientific fact.

References:

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different  (3 Podcasts from The BBC on the genetics of intelligence).

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

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Education, Genetic Explanations

Dr. Rachel Cohen is wrong about the modern causes of social inequality.

Acland Burghley, an inner-city comprehensive school in north London, invited the actor Damian Lewis (who has starred in TV hits such as Homeland and Wolf Hall) to switch on a laser display for their 50th Anniversary celebrations.

But a former pupil, Dr Rachel Cohen, a City University sociology lecturer, gets up a petition. Lewis, she says is a “wholly inappropriate choice” to take part in the school’s celebrations. Is this because he is a paedophile, a wife-beater or a drug addict?  No.  It is because he went to Eton, which she said “embodied the reproduction of privilege and inequality in the UK”.  According to Cohen, the actor didn’t represent “real Burghley values”.

Dr. Rachel Cohen has fallen into the trap of good logic based on a false premise.  It goes something like this:

Talented and motivated children are produced at random and are equally spread in society regardless of social class or parental income.  And the only way to nurture and develop that talent is to go to a school with high levels of financial resource – e.g. a private school.

This logic concludes that private schools produce a disproportionate number of talented individuals because more money is spent on honing that talent. And that this is unfair to equally talented children who do not receive the same opportunities.

The basic premise of this argument is demonstrably wrong.

In actual fact talent and motivation, in whatever form, is mostly genetically inherited from our parents. It is not allocated randomly.

Up to World War Two, there was little social mobility because of the way British society was structured.  If you were born into coal mining village before the 1930s there was a very high likelihood that this is where you would stay, regardless of talent.  Genetic studies (identical twin / adoption studies) up until World War Two confirmed that social class had an impact on our eventual social status.

After World War Two there was an enormous social mobility due to Grammar Schools, public school scholarship and much improved State schools.  As the social restrictions in our society were removed children with the genes that coded for talent and motivation broke free.  This happened across Britain with working class children shooting up the social scale with talent in science, engineering, law, sports and the arts.

These talented people did well.  They earned a good living, achieved a higher social status and joined the affluent middle classes.  They married other talented and motivated individuals and had children who had a higher than average chance of inheriting their parents’ genes for talent and motivation.  As these (now middle class) children had parents who were more affluent they also had a higher chance of being sent to a private school.

So effectively, genes for talent and motivation starting leaving the working class areas (such as coal mining villages) after World War Two and became middle class. 

We would predict that eventually we would see a more polarised genetic society as the genes for talent and motivation are slowly leached out of the working class areas.  Social mobility will slow down and humanities educated journalists and politicians will scratch their heads and wonder why, and then conclude that more must be done to help the talented working class children who used to exist but have now mysteriously disappeared.

Genetic studies since World War Two confirm that social class has relatively little impact on our eventual social status.

The irony is breath taking. Increased household income inequality and slowing levels of social mobility are the result of society becoming more equal. Talented children are still reaching their potential, it’s just that more of them are now middle class.

The class-war warriors, socialists and genetics ignorant sociologists (such as Dr Rachel Cohen) had a laudable dream of equality whereby poor working class children would be fairly and equally represented in society.  They made the assumption that talented and motivated children where thrown up by society at random.  i.e. that talented and motivated children are equally spread across class and relative affluence.  So once “equality” was achieved they imagined a world where there would be a fair representation of working class originated talent in the top echelons of society in perpetuity.

They were wrong. Society is now much more equal, but because talent and motivation are largely genetically encoded the talent has just migrated to the affluent parts of society by the process I have described.  This process is called assortative mating.

Genetics is probabilistic not deterministic.  However, so is the macro level consequence of its effect.  It is more likely that talent will migrate to the middle classes, in a society that is relatively socially mobile, by the process of assortative mating.  So 7% of all students who attend private schools make up 40% of Oxbridge intake, for example.  Not 50% or 100% but 40%.  So 60% still come from the State sector.  This disproportion is explained by assortative mating, not by discrimination.

But this is not enough for the class-war warriors, socialists and genetics-ignorant sociologists (such as Dr Rachel Cohen).  They would want the 7% of students who are privately educated to make up 7% of Oxbridge intake. i.e. not equality of opportunity but equality of outcome.

Our future is not entirely genetically determined and I have no doubt that good schools with quality teachers still make a difference. We should continue do everything we can to ensure that individuals from all parts of society have access to an excellent education and quality careers with equal opportunity to succeed on merit alone.  But if we are to have a serious debate on helping the “disadvantaged” we need to look at all causes of “inequality” and move away from the discredited 1960’s assumptions that it is explained by “nurture” and “class”, which is what Rachel Cohen believes.  Our sociologists should learn a little about evolutionary biology and genetics before making these wild assumptions.

Further Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different   (three BBC radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence)

References:

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

 

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Education, Politics and Economics, Religion

How can we tackle Islamic terrorism?

Islam came out of the xenophobic and violent Arab / Bedu culture of Saudi Arabia. It was then spread violently by conquest throughout the Middle East, Far East, North Africa and into Southern Europe.   The sword on Saudi Arabia’s flag celebrates this fact.

We used to say that there was nothing more dangerous than a fool with a cause. But a fool with a cause who believes they are carrying out God’s will is literally capable of anything. Any genocide, any atrocity, any sacrifice.

In Britain we have three pillars of the State – The Monarchy, The Church and Parliament and they are all largely independent.  The Church and Monarchy have been suitable neutered and liberal parliamentary democracy rules supreme.

Islam is not just a religion. In Islamic countries it is not part of the state, it is the state. It is also an ideology that seeks total control over its citizens in their personal life, their economic life and their political life.  In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan Somalia and Afghanistan Sharia is the only source of legal decisions. Stoning to death, beheading and amputation of limbs remain a legal form of punishment for such crimes as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, theft and homosexuality.

In the West we value rational, evidence-based debate, democracy and the rule of law.  Much of Islam values only irrational religious doctrine written down over 1000 years ago for goat herders living in a different age.

The problems of the Middle East can be summarised into a series of failed nation states.  The only stable Middle East countries have autocratic leaders and they quickly dissolve into chaos if they are deposed (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt…).  The national borders are contrived and their populations have more loyalty to their tribe and their Islamic religious sect (Sunni, Shia, Wahibists, Aliists…) than they do to their nation state.

The same will be true of many Muslims in the UK.  Some would rather fight and die for their fellow religious sects in Syria and Iraq than their own country.  There is also a deafening silence from the many moderate Muslims who will not criticise their religion’s extremists. A few meager conciliatory words from a couple of media contrived Muslim “leaders” but where are the marches and mass participation campaigns on social media – either in the West or the war ravaged Middle East?  Again they have more loyalty to their religion than their community.

Clearly these values are incompatible with liberal Western values and our idea of the Nation State.

Worse still, these poisonous views have now infested our Western cities where they are passionately held by legitimate Western citizens.

So what is our solution?

Western liberal values and the fear of further provoking these evil extremist groups prevents us from isolating Islam for particular attention. We are a society that is comfortable making “The Life of Brian” but would recoil from considering making the Islamic equivalent.

However we have a long history of neutering the power of religion in order to achieve peace and build our Western democracies.  By religion we meant Christianity, but from now on it must mean all religion.  i.e. any form of irrational, unsubstantiated, superstitious belief.

We can criticise and defeat the generic ideas behind Islam without inflaming and offending one particular religious group.

All religions must pay the price for peaceably neutering the power of extremist Islam, because if we accept the philosophy of one religion we must accept them all.

Firstly we must protect our children from this evil.  Any religious indoctrination should be seen as a form of child abuse.

We do not have ”Conservative children” or “Labour children” or “Socialist Workers children”.  We accept that a child does not have the maturity and knowledge to give their consent to a political ideology.  We do not allow political activity in our schools, do not allow children to join a political party and we do not allow them to vote in a general election.

We believe the same is true of sexual activity.  We do not have “gay children” or “heterosexual children”.  Children cannot give consent to sexual activity until 16.

Restrictions on political and sexual activity is intended to protect naïve impressionable minds from the sinister manipulation of predatory adults.

We should have similar policies towards religion.

How can we have a “Jewish child”, a “Muslim child” or a “Christian child”?  Have they made an informed choice? Given their consent?  The sinister power of indoctrination over young and impressionable minds has been known to Catholics for centuries.  Their priests claiming, “if you give me a child, I will give you the man”.

No child should be forced to adopt any form of religious activity in schools until they are old enough to give their informed consent.  This would eliminate faith schools and the form of religious apartheid that exists in Northern Ireland and Glasgow.  It would starve extreme religions of their future brainwashed, indoctrinated disciples.  All Jewish and Muslim schools would be banned and all forms of religious clothing and adornment could not be worn in schools until the child is old enough to give informed consent.

Britain would still have complete religious freedom of expression, exactly the same as we have political freedom of expression and sexual freedom of expression.  But only when the person is old enough to give informed consent.

Secondly all religious activity must be viewed with suspicion and prevented from spreading its ideas using the machinery of State. No State sponsorship or tax breaks for religious activity.No special treatment for religious groups in our democracy (e.g. no automatic right to bishops in the House of Lords). Furthermore religious belief should have no privileges when drafting laws. No automatic right to Halal or Kosher food and no special exemptions from employment law based purely on religious doctrine. No pandering to religious belief when setting our national curriculum. No politesses when teaching our children the realities of evolution. No laws that hinder free speech for fear of causing offence.

Finally there must be more education and open debate about the dangers of irrational, illogical, superstitious belief.  We should be free to criticise these generic religious beliefs and ridicule and hopefully dissuade all those people that follow them.

This is very unfair on the moderate religions. It is also not a perfect solution but the best available solution.  But we let this evil into our societies and extreme measures must now be taken to keep it under control whilst protecting our liberal Western ideals.

Islam cannot be tackled head on without provoking more violence. But its fundamental tenets can be demolished with allegory, analogy, comedy and satire.  This should be further backed up with an insistence on logical, evidence based debate, democracy and the rule of law.

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Education, Genetic Explanations

Why is there an academic north-south divide in Britain?

_86954623_gcse_map_2015

Of the 20 top local authorities in terms of sending pupils to the prestigious Russell Group universities, 19 are in London and the south. Of the 20 worst-performing councils on the same league table, 18 are in the north.

Commentators claim this is an unacceptable divide and believe that this creates a “lottery” for places at top universities arbitrarily based on where you live.  Greg Clark, the cities and universities minister, who has led the government’s push for a “northern powerhouse”, is duly demanding that universities do more to attract students from northern schools.

The superficial knee-jerk conclusion here is that some sort of discrimination is causing this disparity.  This is based on an untested assumption:  that academically talented children and equally spread across the UK.  If so, they should suggest some sort of mechanism for this discrimination and provide some evidence, rather than just naively looking at the spread of successful candidates in Russell Group Universities.

To prove the discrimination hypothesis one must prove that there is a difference in the quality of the schools across the north-south divide and secondly that this difference materially affects the academic outcome of the brightest students.  But it seems it is not the schools causing this divide: New research by the UK Government’s university funding body, based on 132,000 students, shows the effect of the quality of schooling has a much smaller effect on academic results then was previously believed.  For the brightest pupils quality of schooling makes no difference at all.

If it’s not the quality of schooling are we to believe that Russell Group Universities just prefer southern students?  i.e. actively discriminate against northern children? This is a ludicrous proposition.

Let’s assume for the moment that Russell Group Universities just choose the best qualified candidates and seek another explanation for the north-south divide.

First we must acknowledge that academic talent and motivation are largely heritable (i.e. we receive them through our genes).  This has been proven over and over again using identical twin and adoption studies.  Over the last 100 years at least 200 of them have given the same results and have been recently re-verified using massive studies at Kings College London. Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment.  This also revalidates the research (above) from the UK Government’s university funding body that schooling is less important than most people suppose.

Combine the fact that academic talent and motivation is largely inherited through our genes with one of the most passionate and time consuming aspects of human behaviour, i.e. finding a mate, and you have a very powerful natural force. Talented, motivated women generally seek and marry talented, motivated men.  They then generally have talented, motivated children. i.e. they cluster the genes responsible for these talented, motivated characteristics into certain sections of society. As these characteristics generally lead to higher earning potential they are more likely cluster in the affluent parts of society. Consequently talented, motivated children are not equally spread in our society. This is unfair, but I’m explaining the is not the ought. This biological process is called assortative mating.

So here is a potential mechanism for the north-south divide that does not involve ludicrous conspiracy or discrimination theories.

Academically talented people from the north of England have been getting into prestigious universities on merit ever since Britain’s ludicrous class based society was largely dismantled after World War 1.

Our talented northerners got a good degree and then searched for the best paying jobs, which happened to be in the south of England.  Here they married other academically talented people also seeking high paying, prestigious jobs.  They both settled in the south and passed on their academically talented genes to their children.   This process is still going on.  Over a period of a number of generations there will be a clustering of academically talented genes in the affluent parts of society, which in the case of the UK happens to be the south of England.

Top universities may be becoming less socially representative, but they are representing where the talent has clustered because in a relatively socially mobile environment, talented genes will cluster in affluent parts of society.

A perfectly reasonable explanation, backed by good scientific theory that does not need to involve ludicrous discrimination or conspiracy theories.

Further listening on the genetics of intelligence:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born DifferentThree BBC Radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence.

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

References:

Academic north-south divide in English schools

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

Differences in degree outcomes: Key findings  (examines the extent to which a student’s background affects their chance of obtaining an upper second or first class degree)

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Genetic influence on GCSE results

Genetics and general cognitive ability : Article : Nature

Genetics – How Intelligence Changes with Age

Access : Childhood intelligence is heritable, highly polygenic and associated with FNBP1L 

Genes may play role in educational achievement

Access : Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic 

Genetic and environmental contributions to the covariance between occupational status, educational attainment, and IQ

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Education, Genetic Explanations

Why do male students get more first class degrees at Oxford University than female students?

Oxford

Recent research has shown that once again more male students at Oxford University were awarded first class degrees than female students. In 2013, male Oxford graduates received more first class degrees in 26 out of the 38 schools in which both genders were examined. Almost a third of male candidates at the University of Oxford were awarded firsts in 2013, compared with just a quarter of female candidates, according to statistics released by the university in 2014.

In chemistry and English, two of Oxford’s biggest subjects, the gap is remarkable. In chemistry, 52% of men gained firsts, compared with just 30% of female students. In English literature and language, 42% of men were awarded firsts, compared with 29% of women.  In history last year, 29% of male candidates gained firsts, compared with 19% of female candidates.

The gender gap in exam results at the university is something that has come up repeatedly, causing the university to announce last year that “steps should be taken” to give all students the degree they deserve. When this was reported in the Guardian newspaper it was amusing to read the convoluted and complicated socio-economic, misogynistic, conspiracy based theories put forward to explain this phenomenon.

There is a simple, well known and well understood explanation – but one we are not allowed to mention.

The average IQ of men and women is, by definition, 100.   Any questions that show a sex bias, favouring either men or women are removed from the test.  However, despite this, the spread (variance) of IQ is different with more men having high IQs compared to women and also more low IQs compared to women.

Image

Fig. 1 IQ variation in boys and girls.

Another measure of cognitive ability is g (short for “general factor”) a variable that summarises correlations among different cognitive tasks, reflecting the fact that an individual’s performance at one type of cognitive task tends to be comparable to his or her performance at other kinds of cognitive tasks.  It is also used as a proxy for “intelligence”.  This also shows a variation between men and women.

male_female_bell_curve_

Fig. 2  The distribution of g in male and female populations. The scale of the x-axis is in units of the male standard deviation.

The difference in variance (regardless of whether there is a mean difference) will ipso facto result in more adult males scoring highly than adult females, provided the sample is large enough and the test ceiling is high enough to allow the males to outscore the females. For instance, at the near-genius level (an IQ of 145),  very bright men outnumber very bright women by 8 to 1. The numbers of people with exceptional intelligence are very small, so very large, or preferably population-wide studies are required to detect them. 

This is why we see more male geniuses and more male dunces in the real world.  Try this simple thought experiment. Name 10 female geniuses from any period in history.  This is not easy.  Socioeconomic reasons are often offered to explain this phenomenon.  There have clearly been major disadvantages for women and the poor to achieve their true potential throughout human history. As society becomes more equal we expect a higher proportion of women to take their rightful place in society and there is good evidence that this is finally happening.  

But this fails to explain the entire difference in the proportion of genius between the sexes.   Many of our geniuses were from quite modest backgrounds so their elevation to eminence was caused by something inherent to them.  Einstein, Mozart, Shakespeare and Newton, to name a few, were not born into wealth.  When Mozart saw a piano keyboard he did not see a line of black and white keys, as we mere mortals would. He saw a symphony. He was driven and consumed by his music. He couldn’t not write music. Are we to really believe that a woman with that talent would not have been noticed? The same goes for Einstein as he wrote his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 whilst working as a patent clerk.  His genius was undeniable.  Shakespeare obviously wrote prolifically and effortlessly with very little editing. When Newton went to Cambridge University in 1661 he had to pay his way by performing valet’s duties.  At this point he had not received any formal mathematical training, but he was still able to teach himself and then go on to invent calculus and describe the laws of gravity.  Intellect at these levels is impossible to deny or repress.  

Throughout most of human history poor people were not well educated but more affluent men and women were educated. Middle and upper class women were certainly taught to read and write and were also taught music.  Music was considered a very appropriate pastime for young ladies, as was painting.  These ladies of leisure most certainly would have had the education, and more importantly the time, to produce a female version Shakespeare, Rembrandt  or Mozart.  More recently the list of the top 100 guitarists of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine, contains only 2 women – the highest ranked at number 75. Can we realistically argue that modern society denies women the opportunity to learn to play a guitar? 

In 2014, after more than 50 consecutive male winners, a Fields Medal (the top mathematics prize) went to a female mathematician.  If you tossed a coin 51 times, your probability of 50 tails then a head would be less than one in 2,250,000,000,000,000.  Are we to believe that only explanation for these staggering odds is sexism?

The same relative shortage of female genius is discovered in lists of science Nobel Prize winners and in most other objective and meritocratic measure of accomplishment where men and women are free to compete for the prize.  This is not denying that there are many very bright women and some female geniuses.  There are just fewer women than men in this category.

Nobel prize winners by gender

Fig. 3  Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economic Sciences 1901- 2011.

Genius is not just a question of talent.  Geniuses are also ruthless, single minded and driven. A combination of all these traits is unstoppable.  To get a first class degree from an elite university requires a certain amount of risk taking in answering key questions.  One must be prepared to take a little travelled path of logic and try something genuinely new and ground breaking; to be prepared to risk ridicule or abject failure for the small chance of greatness; to believe that you are right and stake and substantiate your ground when everybody else believes in something more obvious, more mundane and more intuitive. Testosterone, as we all know, causes males of the species across the animal kingdom to flaunt risk-taking and aggressive behaviour.  As well as exceptional intelligence would this not give an edge to the people at the brilliant end of the academic spectrum?  Brilliance, confidence, risk taking and even arrogance are the preserve of real genius.

In recent years we have seen a University education expanded from about 8% of the UK population to nearer 50% .  As more students with lower IQs are University educated we would logically expect there to be more female graduates.  When a University education is available to all students with average and above average IQs  we would expect there to be more female graduates than male graduates because men out-number women at the lower end of IQ variance.  In 2010-11, there were more female (55%) than male fulltime undergraduates (45%) enrolled at university.  This is consistent with the variance in IQ and g models.

The variance in male / female intelligence is politically charged and attracts vitriolic responses from certain sectors of society.  There is less controversy over other aspects of extreme male behaviour.  There are many more male psychopaths, terrorists and criminals for example.  Neither does the fact that more males have learning difficulties attract much political controversy.   But for high intelligence there is often the assumption that because it is unfair and morally objectionable (either in fact or in its possible misinterpretation or misuse) it cannot be true.  Intelligence is the one thing that differentiates our species from other animals and it is emotionally, politically  and morally charged.  But this does not mean there is no truth in a genetic basis for intelligence.

Just as controversially there is also good evidence that the male bias towards science and the female bias towards humanities is also moderately heritable  i.e. inherited in our genes.  So gender-science stereotype is not totally determined by culture and personal experiences.

Of course we must take every necessary step to ensure that boys and girls get the same opportunities in education and in life, but let’s also accept that those same opportunities will not necessarily produce the same outcomes.  Economists who study patterns of discrimination have long argued (generally to no avail) that there is a crucial conceptual distinction between difference  and discrimination. A departure from a 50-50 sex ratio in any profession does not, by itself, imply that we are seeing discrimination, unless the interests and aptitudes of the two groups are identical.

So, at a super-elite University such as Oxford, where we are looking at a tiny proportion of the brightest students, we would expect there to be more males achieving 1st class degrees. It is not fair but it is also not a mystery.  It is a consequence of the male genome (particularly the short Y chromosome), which causes greater genetic variations in men, leading to both good and bad extremes of male behaviour.

References:

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different  (3 Podcasts from The BBC on the genetics of intelligence).

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

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Education

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

For at least 30 years genetic research has shown us that a significant determiner of who and what we are is genetically pre-determined.

This was recently confirmed by yet another study from Kings College in London:

“The degree to which students’ GCSE exam scores differ owes more to their genes than to their teachers, schools or family”

This research confirms that up to 60% of the differences in our children’s educational achievement is explained by inherited genes.  i.e. the DNA sequences we get from our parents at conception.  The rest is composed of a mixture of “nurture” type influences, such as parenting, schooling and peer group as well as a number of “random” life events, which are neither nature nor nurture.  The existing genetic research seems to indicate that peer groups is the biggest of these nurture influences and parenting made surprisingly little difference by the time we reach the age of 35.

I was very excited to read about new research that tries to understand the relative importance of schooling influences in the 40% which is nurture. For example, how much difference does a private school make compared to a State School?  How much difference does a good school make compared to a poor school?

This new research by the UK Government’s university funding body is based on the entire UK cohort who started university in 2007-08 (130,000 students) and graduated three years later. This huge study eliminates potential sampling biases and offers a robust and comprehensive examination of questions that smaller or institution-specific studies are unable to answer.  The study looked at how likely these students were to achieve firsts or 2:1s, depending on their background, and controlling for different academic grades.

The starting assumption to this study is that a student in a poor school getting the same grades as a student in a good school must be more intelligent, i.e. their superior intelligence had to compensate for their poorer academic environment.  So when they go to university the student from a poor school should do better when the are exposed to an identical academic environment.  If this was proven the study’s authors would have argued for lower offer grades by good universities to pupils from poor schools.

What did this research tell us?

1. Degree outcomes are not affected by the average performance of the school that a student attended. Specifically, a student from a low-performing school is not more likely to gain a higher degree classification than a student with the same prior educational attainment from a high-performing school. For example, regardless of ‘school type’, a student gaining AAB at A’ Level from a school in the highest 20 per cent of schools in the country has the same likelihood of gaining a first or upper second as a student gaining AAB from a school in the lowest 20 per cent of schools in the country. In both cases, the proportion gaining a first or upper second is 79 per cent. See key points 20 and 21 in the above reference.

2. Among students achieving A* and A grades at A’ Level, there was also  no statistical difference in degree attainment according to school type.

These are the grades required by elite Russell Group University applicants and Oxbridge candidates.  These data seem to back up the genetic theories that if a student is academically gifted the type of school he or she attends makes little difference to their academic achievement.  Your genes win out – at least in in an advanced, relatively socially mobile country with a good, national, free State education system.  It also seems to indicate that Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities should not be discriminating according to school type.  If they do they will dilute their high academic standards.

3. At the maximum differential, students educated at state school, achieving A-level grades of around BBC were 7% to 8% more likely to achieve a good degree than their private school peers with the same grades.

This seems to indicate that at best the standard of schooling can improve the performance of more “average” ability A’ level candidates by up to 8%.  This is much lower than I expected, considering the considerable perceived difference between good quality and poor quality schools.  However this seems to confirm the importance of other nurture influences on education, such as peer group.

4. A much smaller study by Exeter University found that someone achieving AAB at A’ Level from a low-performing school or college had the same potential to succeed as someone achieving AAA at a high-performing school.

Assuming that the differential between pupils from good or even average state schools compared to “a high performing school” is even less, it seems that the maximum benefit from a very expensive private education is a single grade increase in only one of three A’ levels.  In most cases it will be less than that.  Again it proves the majority of the educational ability is inherent to the child and independent of schooling.

Conclusions in a relatively socially mobile, developed country such as the UK:

1. The type of schooling makes no difference at all for the brightest students.

2. Russell Group and Oxbridge universities should not discriminate according to school type.

3. Schooling makes a small difference (8%) for A’ level candidates of more average ability.

4. For those Universities making offers around BBB and CCC grades there is a good case for offering pupils from poor performing schools slightly lower grades (e.g. BCC or even CCC instead of BBC).

5. Parents should look at these statistics before spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a private education.  If their intention is to get significantly better A’ level results for their children they will be disappointed.  This is poor value for money.

These research results seem to back up existing research that concluded that schooling has a limited influence on educational achievement.  At best it makes up 8% of the 40% which is open to environmental influence.  For the brightest students it makes no statistical difference.  Peer group, parenting and random life events (i.e. events which are not nature or nurture) make up the rest of the 40%.

These results will be exaggerated by social engineers and class-war socialists in order to further their case against elitism and further their positive discrimination policies.

It should be noted however that these statistics are only made possible because of the excellent job done by British teachers. They contribute to making the UK a relatively equal society.   These studies show that British society is now “equal enough” to allow talent and motivation to be rewarded regardless of the type of schooling.  In other countries, where children are more poorly educated, the type of school a child attends will make a bigger difference to their academic achievement.

Even early school provision does not make the impact many expect.  Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education team has just published research showing that in a worrying number of rich-world countries more than 15% of young people are “unqualified”. Those with a problem include France, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark—all high scorers for early-years provision. A good start is not enough on its own.

It is in our interest as a society that we have the best people in the right jobs. We all benefit from a genuine meritocracy. There should be no discrimination based on colour, class or sex. But this includes “positive” discrimination too. We should not be giving people a leg up because of a perceived injustice unless we can prove beyond doubt that they really have been disadvantaged.

Further listening on the genetics of intelligence:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born DifferentThree BBC Radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence.

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

References:

Differences in degree outcomes: Key findings  (examines the extent to which a student’s background affects their chance of obtaining an upper second or first class degree)

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

Why is there an academic north-south divide in Britain?

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Genetic influence on GCSE results

Genetics and general cognitive ability : Article : Nature

Genetics – How Intelligence Changes with Age

Access : Childhood intelligence is heritable, highly polygenic and associated with FNBP1L 

Genes may play role in educational achievement

Access : Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic 

Genetic and environmental contributions to the covariance between occupational status, educational attainment, and IQ

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Education

A Case for Sending Teenagers to Boarding School

When my children started boarding at 11 they were the 5th consecutive generation of Amblers to go to boarding school in England.  My great-grandfather and grandfather’s parents had settled in India where they had a number of successful family businesses.   A lack of appropriate local schools amongst the indigo plantations and slate quarries of Bihar forced them to a boarding school in Brighton.  My father boarded in rural Wiltshire from age 8 whilst the Second World War was raging.  His father was working round the clock on a secret submarine sonar system. I boarded from 13 in the Home Counties to give my education stability whilst my parents worked in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Tanzania and the Philippines.  My two children subsequently boarded in the Home Counties whilst I worked in Japan, USA and Middle East. On moving to Dubai I anticipated not being moved by my employers within 5 years and gave them both the option of going to a good local British day school and living at home. They both politely declined.

I cannot speak for my great-grandfather (as I never met him) but all other members of my family regard boarding school as some of the happiest and most positive experiences in their life. Certainly their letters and photographs of this time is testament to this fact.  My father was particularly enthusiastic.

Perhaps it was the benefits of a stable school life where we made lifelong friends and concentrated on our studies.  With no “school run” we had more time for hobbies, musical instruments and playing for the First XI.  Combining this with the excitement of large amounts of international travel made this childhood almost idyllic. I certainly looked forward to the school holidays, particularly when my parents were in a new country, but I looked forward to going back to school and seeing my friends at the end of them.

I certainly never felt rejected and neither, on close questioning, do my children. Ultimately they chose to stay as boarders when given the choice.  Modern boarding is, after all, a giant sleep over.   Most teenagers would prefer to be with their friends than their parents in any case.

Boarding Schools teach social confidence, social tolerance and consideration of others when living together. I made great lifelong friends, many of whom I would never have bothered to get to know properly unless we were living in such close proximity.  Up to 40% of pupils in boarding schools are foreign, giving opportunities to make friendships with children from different cultures and (surprisingly) different social backgrounds.  The large numbers of bursaries and scholarships create eclectic boarding communities.

Foreign students at UK boarding schools

It was noticeably easier for me to take the relatively small step to University life. Spotting fellow boarders at University was easy during the first year as we were so much more confident and independent.  The average British University today has over 15,000 students from many different cultures and backgrounds.  This is a massive, bewildering experience and a giant step for many teenagers who have left home for the first time.  Without adequate preparation this can be overwhelming.

I find many parents totally against boarding on principle, fuelled by their own personal emotional feelings with little consideration for their children’s views.  When living in the USA a great many of our American friends and acquaintances were shocked at how cruel we were for sending our children to boarding school in England.  “I could never send my children away to school” was the typical response.  The emphasis was always on the “I”.  I would mischievously reply “but what would your children prefer?”  This often caused a hesitation and then an admission that their children would probably quite like the idea.  One even admitted that perhaps it was selfish to think only of her own needs as a parent.  Children are not pets, to be kept for our own amusement and satisfaction and to fulfill our parental nurturing fantasies.  They are independent beings with their own opinions.

I’m fascinated by the knee-jerk assumption made by many parents that the best way to bring up children is in a nuclear family (parents and children living in a single dwelling without extended family).  How real is the idyllic nuclear family?  Parents are often preoccupied with their careers, commuting, affairs, divorce and their own personal inadequacies and insecurities.  With both parents working the reality is more often the “latch key” teenager, with no adult supervision for much of their day.

Also, when in human history has the nuclear family been the norm?

Actually there are almost no periods of human history where we lived as a nuclear family apart from the brief period since WW2.  For most of our evolutionary past humans lived in small communities, extended families and tribes. Parents often died when their children were young, leaving them to be brought up by relatives.  Children routinely left home in their early teens to work, fight or to experience and explore the world. They were often sent away to be educated by living with friends and relatives and often abroad. Boys of all classes were sent into the British Navy as young as 10 and didn’t see their parents for years. They were fighting battles in their early teens and could captain a ship before 20. The working classes sent their children away to earn money.  They were often recruited into armies as baggage boys and drummers and left home for years to go on long campaigns.  Girls were sent away into domestic service.  The Romans and Greeks also had similar practices.  Of course I am not claiming that small children do not need to be with their mother, just that the long-term nuclear family is not a natural state.  We are a social species, after all.

There must be some reason why teenagers behave like… well, like teenagers.  Teenagers living in nuclear families can be troubled and troublesome.  Many a parent-child relationship is damaged by living in too close proximity during adolescence. Teenagers have evolved to be confrontational and contrary to ensure they strike out on their own – to be more independent.  Something needs to make them want to fly the nest, which is an evolutionary imperative.

Parents have not evolved to spend decades together either. In our evolutionary past we just didn’t live that long and bonding between parents for 10 years or so was perfectly sufficient to give any offspring a good start.  The modern divorce and separation rate is testament to this fact. Living with divorced or divorcing parents and witnessing their turmoil and warring can have an adverse effect on children.  Boarding school can separate them from much of this unpleasantness.

So teenagers were never meant to be part of a nuclear family and they naturally start flexing for more independence and more time with their peers.  So perhaps the best solution is to give it to them in a controlled way?  Boarding school can provide this halfway house between childhood and adult independence or University.

Boys particularly benefit from experiencing the different male role models that boarding schools provide. Dads at home believe they are indispensable, but the average father sees his children for less than a few hours during the working week. They are busy working and commuting and getting on with their own lives.  In any case, he is just one limited role model.  However good we Dads think we are there are other methods of getting through life. In our evolutionary past we had more exposure to extended family, grandparents and local leaders.  Modern life is dominated by mothers, female teachers, a limited peer group, separation, divorce and both parents absent at work.  Boarding school exposes young men to male teachers, housemasters, house tutors, team coaches and older boys in a familiar, stable environment.  Boarders therefore have a wider range of role models, strategies and behaviours they can draw on in later life.

Many regard the main advantage of boarding is to be set free from the stifling and claustrophobic environment created by over over-cautious, controlling, domineering and interfering parents. The parents, of course, would call this love.

Access to organised sport is also cited a good reason to send teenagers to boarding schools.  There are good practical reasons for adding “body” to the ethos of  “education for the mind, body and spirit”, and it goes beyond training our bodies to avoiding obesity and diabetes.  The British boarding school belief that the taking part in sport is more important than winning may seem old fashioned now, but makes perfect sense for them.    Question: How do you control 1000 adolescent males living in close proximity in a boarding school environment?  Answer: Wear them out.  By having all the boys on the sports fields five afternoons per week, working off their natural energy, frustration and aggression in a controlled and organised way, ensures they are too tired at other times to get into too much trouble.  A lesson the modern world would do well to learn, particularly in our inner cities.

Another aversion to the idea of boarding is giving your children to the care of “strangers”.  Perhaps this is why we prefer to send children to a local school (i.e. within UK) and spend much time assessing the 2000 or so boarding schools available to choose one which we think matches the character and interests of our children.  We choose an ethos and environment, which we find familiar and reassuring. There is a large difference between many of the schools.  Choose between sporty, musical, academic, artistic, dramatic, nurturing, adventurous, disciplined or liberal – take your pick – you’d be surprised at the variety.  We also vet the school and teachers carefully.  Parents often send their children to their alma mater perhaps to add to the familiarity.

In any case, people are only strangers for a short time.  It takes about a week at boarding school for them to become familiar.  You also get to spend 7 years or so with your new peers, so they become very familiar – more like brothers than friends.  I’m still in touch with many of my teachers and tutors for the same reason.  They become a part of your life.

Our whole life is a series of meeting strangers socially, in business and in everyday life.  Quickly assessing and evaluating strangers and then forming relationships with those useful to us is a useful life skill to learn.  Perhaps another advantage of the wider, more intimate social experience we get at boarding school.

And what of the expensive and time-consuming taxi service parents provide their teenagers?  The endless ferrying of children to and from school and their after school activities?    Latest evidence shows we spend six hours and 43 minutes a week taking our children to and from school and after school clubs, with an additional annual fuel bill of over £1700.  With more boarding school places the environment would benefit from less “school run” traffic congestion and less pollution.  The economy would benefit by parents and teenagers having nearly 7 additional hours to work and study every week.

The final objection to boarding schools is the eye watering cost.  A few prestigious schools charge annual fees well above the pre-tax income of the average family but there are many more reasonably priced private boarding schools.  Don’t forget that the top schools provide bursaries and scholarships for pupils with parents of more limited means.  Ask the school for details.  The tuition fees are typically 2/3 of these costs and there is a sprinkling of good quality State boarding schools, where parents need only find the boarding fees.   Savings would also be made on costs the child would have incurred at home.

The Government could help support boarding costs with tax deductions for parents that needed it and more state funded boarding schools could be created if there was sufficient demand. Our politicians are very vocal about wanting more “child care” provision to help working mothers, particularly politicians from left-of-centre parties.  But they are suspiciously quiet about demanding the provision of more State boarding school places for parents with teenagers.

There are many legitimate concerns about the psychological effect of boarding, particularly from a young age. This is led by Nick Duffell who has written articles and books on the psychological damage he believes boarding can inflict.  Clearly boarding is not suited to everybody, and despite my father’s happy memories, I agree with him that boarding from 8 is too young for many children.  However Mr. Duffell is making money from his psychotherapy practice and his books on the subject.  I wonder what proportion of children who went to boarding school have the problems he proclaims and how many of those would have had problems in life regardless of their schooling?  It is convenient to blame parents, teachers, schools and our circumstances for our own insecurities and inadequacies.

But for balance we should also consider how many other children have had fewer problems in life because they boarded? I know people who think I have had advantages in life because I boarded.  Many Guardian readers complain about the social advantages of boarding school and how unfair it is on people that don’t have this “privilege”!

Many who had terrible experiences at boarding school recall the prodigious use of corporal punishment, which has rightly coloured their opinion of boarding.  There was no corporal punishment at my father’s school (in the 1940s) or mine (1970s and 80s).  My Grandfather and Great-grandfather (and their brothers) all loved their school days.  They spoke fondly of their experiences and have many proud photographs recording their sporting achievements, school trips and great friendships.  Corporal punishment may have been a part of their life, but they never mentioned it.  Day schools also had corporal punishment and parents often used it at home – often quite brutally.  So perhaps they are confusing the punishment regime with boarding, leaving them with a loathing for the school but unable to separate which aspects caused them the most anguish. It is clearly a barbaric, violent and humiliating punishment and rightly consigned to the dustbin of history.  It has been illegal for decades.

Modern boarding schools are also very aware of the possibility of bullying and other types of abuse.  They have many policies and measures in place to detect and prevent them.  All pupils have access to an independent student councilor, a doctor and an on site medical professional – usually a nurse.  There is also a clear structure of pastoral care.  In addition all boarding schools are subject to regularly reviewed National Minimum Standards and a rigorous regime of independent inspection and assessment by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).  Prospective parents should review the latest ISI report on their website before making a decision on a specific school.  Other useful source of independent advice is  The Good Schools Guide, and Independent Schools Council.  Modern boarding is well regulated and provides a warm, pleasant and humane experience.   We should not confuse the old and new regimes.

Even Mr. Duffell is not against boarding per se, just from a young age.  “It could be OK at 15 or 16”, he states.  He also accepts that flexible boarding is obviously better. i.e. where children only board for a few days during the week and go home at weekends.

People not familiar with boarding schools often fail to realise that we put children in boarding school for the benefit of the children. Parents often have a hard time and need to prepare themselves.  My mother and wife cried on leaving their children behind.   I was looking forward to my son starting boarding school because I thought he would enjoy it.  I was right – he did.  But in all the excitement I had forgotten to take my own feeling in account, and missed him terribly.  Parents need to prepare themselves as they generally feel they miss out. The teenage children generally don’t.  In any case parents see their children 6 times per a year during major holidays and half term breaks.

Many modern boarding schools have weekly and flexible boarding options to fit in with parents’ work commitments.  Children come home at weekends or they can be day pupils where parents can book their children into the boarding house on an ad hoc basis according to their work commitments during the week.  This also allows both parents and teenagers to be eased gently into a boarding school routine.  The number of British children in boarding schools has increased recently as working parents seek an alternative to complex child care arrangements.  A total of 45,314 British children currently attend boarding school, up from 37,926 last year.  Among British families boarding is more popular among older children and especially for sixth form (children 16 to 18 years).

Boarding is a personal choice and positive one for a great many children.  The people best placed to know what is best for their children can only be the parents.  They need to assess the right child, at the right age for the right school.  Don’t judge their choice unless you have walked in their shoes.

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