Monday, September 03, 2012

The Michael Gove Method: A rigorous mathematical proof that any percentage can be shown to be equivalent to any other percentage.

"What's 2+3, Michael?"  The Education Secretary
demonstrates the wonders of 'GoveMath'.
As a Mathematician, I'm always looking to push the boundaries of my knowledge, and learn new and surprising (and often exciting!) mathematical methods.

It was particularly fitting, therefore, when the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, directly educated me by personally demonstrating his new branch of Mathematics on the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning.

But I'm not only a Mathematician.  I also have a degree in Civil Engineering.  As such, I find great beauty in simple and elegant design solutions, and Mr Gove's latest foray into the curriculum and qualifications landscape truly is a thing of great beauty.

I am referring, of course, to Mr Gove's plan to re-introduce an examination "that has all the rigour of the old O Level but which is sat by a majority of students", and if that's not a quote that screams, "I've given thorough and considered thought to what will happen for everyone else," then I don't what is.

In order to support his push for reform, Mr Gove quoted a percentage.  And not just any percentage.  A percentage from Singapore, admired from afar for their "rigorous" approach to education.  Remarkably, 81% of students who took "O-Level-style" examinations in Singapore passed those examinations.

This is clearly much more impressive than the 58.3% of British pupils who gained 5 GCSEs at grade A* to C including English and Maths in 2011.  Look, the number is bigger and everything.  It's bigger by more than 20%.  That's huge!

It's all the more impressive because the 81% was achieved using the new Michael Gove Method, or 'GoveMath' for short.

And now I'm going to demonstrate how it works.

Let's say we want to prove that 54% is equivalent to 81%.  It's probably easier to understand if I invent some context, so let's imagine that these numbers are pass rates for an examination in, oh I don't know, ... Singapore.

The important thing here, is that we start with the answer we want to get at the end, and work backwards from there.  So we want to get 81%, so we'll start with that.

We now need a value that I will call a 'catalyst percentage', say ... 67%.  Let's imagine that the 67% represents the proportion of students who actually took the exam, and the 81% is the pass rate for those students.

Now it's just a simple calculation to get to the other figure.  81% passed the exam out of 67% who took it, which works out by simple multiplication, to show that 54% of the entire cohort of students passed these exams.

54% is a lower proportion than the 58.3% of all British students who met the required standard at GCSE in 2011!  If "O-Level-style" exams are re-introduced over here, we should easily surpass Singapore's figure of 81%.  We wouldn't even have to change the way we teach our students.

And this is where the simple and elegant design solution comes in: all you have to do is exclude the bottom third of pupils from the examination system, and be incredibly vague about what alternative provision will be supplied to them.  Results will be improve by nearly a quarter overnight!

GoveMath is both a revolution and a revelation!  Why isn't Michael Gove President of the United Kingdom yet?

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