## Social Mobility or Social Justice

Last week I was doing some research and I happened across and interesting report from the education select committee reviewing the work and the future of the social mobility commission, following the resignation of all the commissioners. The report itself had some damning things to say about the government’s treatment of the commission and the distinct failure of the government to work to achieve a higher standard of social mobility, despite the prime minister stating that social mobility would be a priority of her government.

The thing that interested me the most was the discussion about social justice vs social mobility. The education select committee expressed a feeling that social mobility seems to focus on raising people up the ladder of opportunity, and can sometimes leave people struggling to get onto that ladder. They discussed that the current focus seems to be on picking a few out of poverty and giving them an opportunity to attend a good university. Their recommendation was that the name of the commission be changed from social mobility to social justice and that their focus be to look at all policy changes from a social justice viewpoint to ensure that it was working for all. These recommendations appear to have been rejected by the government.

Roll forward a few days and I read an article about the opposition policy announcement that they would alter the name and focus of the commission from social mobility to social justice and switch its focus from picking a few to lift out to a radical new way of thinking which aims to help everyone. When I read the article I could see that the opposition had clearly read the education select committee’s report. That they too feel that after decades of failure by consecutive governments from both sides of the house to achieve a more equal society a radical overhaul in the approach was required.

To me this seems a sensible policy. Tweaking has failed, we’ve rehashed the same policy ideas over and over and all we have seen is a greater inequality than we had before. Surely it’s time to rethink? But then I read the backlash. The education secretary spoke out against the idea saying it was “downgrading the importance of social mobility”. Let that sink in, the current government have downgraded the importance of social mobility so much that the entire commission resigned due to government actions and their education secretary is accusing this policy of downgrading the importance. The hypocrisy is ridiculous and there is also a condescending overtone to those who do not want to move towards a graduate career. To write these people off as being “without ambition” is wholly wrong. A university education is not the only measure of success.

Then there is the idea that getting students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university is even a good indication of social mobility and reducing inequality. In a world where unpaid internships and old boys networks are the biggest steppingstones to the top jobs getting to university is only half the battle. A shift of focus from social mobility to tackling the inequality in society at all levels is, for me, a welcome one.

**Further Reading:**

Education Select Committee report mentioned above, The future of the Social Mobility Commission: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmeduc/866/86602.htm

TES report on Labour policy and Hinds’ response: https://www.tes.com/news/labour-swap-social-mobility-social-justice

Letter from Prof Reay (Cambridge University) on social mobility: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/28/social-mobility-is-the-wrong-goal-what-we-need-is-more-equality

## Nice area puzzle

Yesterday evening I came across this lovely area puzzle on twitter:

The puzzle is from Gerry McNally (@mcnally_gerry) he says its his first, and I hope that’s “first of many”.

I reached for the nearest pen and paper and had a quick go:

As you can see, I misread the puzzle originally and thought the lower quadrilateral was a square. The large triangle is isosceles as given in the question. This allowed me to use the properties of similar triangles and the base lengths given to work out the areas of the square, both right angled triangles and the whole triangle. This then allowed me to calculate the area of the shaded quadrilateral and hence that area as a fraction of the whole.

Then I went to tweet my solution to Gerry and realised that nowhere does it say that the bottom quadrilateral is a square. I had added an assumption. This made me ponder the question some more. Instincts told me that it didn’t have to be a square, but that the solution would be the sane whether it was a square or not. But I didn’t want to leave it at that, I wanted to be sure, so I had another go.

I sketched out the triangle again:

This time I called the height of the rectangle x.

This made it trivial to find the area’s of the rectangle and the triangle GCD. Triangle HAB was easy enough to find using similar triangle properties.

and then I found the area of the whole shape again using similarity to discover the height.

This allowed me to find the shaded area:

Then when I put it as a fraction the xs cancelled and it of course reduced to the same answer.

I really like this puzzle, and would be interested to see how you approached it, please let me know in the comments or on social media.

## AS Levels

We are now fully into “Exam season”, Year 11 have their GCSE exams, and Year 13 have their A Levels. Then Year 12 have AS Levels.

AS levels are a weird thing. They are no longer a component part of the A Level, they are very early in the exam session and it seems to me an unnecessary added pressure.

Last year we took a decision as an academy not to enter pur maths students for the AS exams. We did this to maximise pur teaching time and avoid unnecessary stress. This year the decision was taken at trust level to enter them in all subjects.

I can now see two sides of the argument. Last year our students focussed heavily on their other subjects and not maths as they had external exams for those subjects. This meant we lost teaching time and their homework suffered during exam season. This year we have not finished all the content early enough to really focus the revision. I really dont know whats best. I do think, however, that it is important to have a decision made for all subjects.

*Are you entering your students for AS Levels? I’d love to know if you are or not and why you made that decision. You can answer in thw comments or on social media.*

## Late tiering decisions

Last week year 11 sat their mocks. Some did really well, others did really poorly. It’s the latter group that has me purplexed. Students sitting the higher tier paper but only scoring single digits per paper, or even earlt teens per paper. What to do with them?

Some of them asked if they could move to foundation, I think its best for them. 1 student got 32 marks over 3 higher papers, did the 3 foundation and was well over 100. 1 student got 40 marks over 3 higher papers spent 30 mins in a foundation paper and got 60 marks. The grade 5s they want seem more achievable on foundation.

My issue lies with a few students desperate to do higher and try for 6s. Scoring around 50 marks over 3 higher papers it seems a risk. But having taught them both i feel that it’s within their capabilities. But from November to march they have made only tiny gains in marks. On the ine hand, foundation means they cant get a 6 and for at least one of them means rethinking post 16 choices, but on the other hand sitting higher means they might end up with only a 4 or less and thst would mean rethinking post 16 again. It’s tricky, any thoughts are welcomed.

## Proof by markscheme

While marking my Y11 mocks this week I came across this nice algebraic proof question:

The first student had not attempted it. While looking at it I ran through it quickly in my head. Here is the method i used jotted down:

I thought, “what a nice simple proof”. Then I looked at the markscheme:

There seemed no provision made in the markscheme for what I had done. *(Edit: It is there, my brain obviously just skipped past it)* *How did you approach this question? Please let me know via the comm*ents *or social media.*

Anyway, some of my students gave some great answers. None of them took my approach, but some used the same as the markscheme:

And one daredevil even attempted a geometric proof…….

## Cereal Percentages

This week my Y11s are sitting mock exams. One of the questions that came up on paper 1 stumped a lot them.

They came out if the exam on monday, and said the paper was very difficult. One of them asked me one of the questions:

*“Sir, if you have a box of cereal and increase it by 25% but keep the price the same, what percentage would you need to decrease the price of the original box by to get the same value?”*

I immediately said “20%”, an answer which flummoxed the student and the others stood around. They couldn’t work out how I had got that answer, never mind so quickly.

I tried to explain it to them, but in that moment, on the corridor, I didn’t do a very good job. For me, it was intuitive. A 25% increase and a 20% decrease would yield the same value as in one you are changing the top of a fraction and the other the bottom of a fraction so you need to use the reciprocal, 4/5 is the reciprocal of 5/4 and 4/5 is 80% hence it needs to be a 20% decrease. Cue blank looks and pained expressions. I was seeing the students again later in an intervention session so I promised to go through it in more detail then.

I talked about the idea of value, how you could consider mass/price and get grams per penny – how many grams for each penny you spend – or you could consider price/mass and get penny per grams – how much you pay per gram. I said either of these would give an idea of value and you can use either in a best value problem.

I showed them the idea of the fraction, said you could call the price x and the size y.

The starting scenario is:

*y/x*

The posed scenario is:

*1.25y/x*

but we know 1.25 is 5/4 so that becomes:

*(5/4)y / x*

which in turn is:

*5y/4x*

I then showed that the second scenario meant getting to the same value but altering x. To do this you would need to mutiply x by 4/5:

*y/(x(4/5))*

*(y/x)÷(4/5)*

*(y/x) × (5/4)*

*5y/4x*

This managed to show some of them what was going on, but others still massively struggled. I tried showing them with numbers. 100 grams for £1. This again had an effect for some but still left others blank.

*I’m now racking my brains for another way to explain it. If you have a better explanation, please let me know in the comments of via social media!*

## When will I use this?

Recently I read a rather interesting article from Daniel Willingham about whether there were people who just cant do maths. It was a very good read and I hope to write my thoughts on it later, when I’ve had more time to digest the material and form some coherent thoughts, but there was one part that set me off on a train of thought that I want to write about here.

The part in question was discussing physical manipulatives and real life examples. Willingham said that there is some use in them but that research suggests this can sometimes be overstated as many abstract concepts have no real life examples. He then spoke about analogies and how they can be very effective in maths of used well.

This got me thinking, earlier on the day a year 12 student had asked me “when am I ever going to use proof in real life?”. This type of question is one I get a lot about various maths topics, and my stock answer tends to be “that depends what career you end up in”. Many students, when asking this, seem to think real life doesn’t mean work. A short discussion about the various roles that would use it and that its possible they never will if they chose different roles but that the reasoning skills it builds are useful is usually enough and certainly was in this case.

It does beg the question though “why do they only ask maths teachers”? Last week when a y10 student asked about “real life” use of algebraic fractions I asked him if he asked his English teachers when he’d need to know hiw to analyse an unseen poem in real life. He said no. I asked if he thought he would. Again no.

So why ask in maths?

The Willingham article got me thinking about this. There has been, throughout my career, a strong steer towards contextualising every maths topics. Observers and trainers pushing “make it relate to them” at every turn. But some topics have no every day relatable context.Circle theorems, for instance, are something that are not going to be encountered outside of school by pretty much any of them. So maybe thats the issue. Maybe we are drilling them with real life contexts too much in earlier years, and this means when they encounter algebraic fractions, circle theorems or proof and don’t have a relatable context the question arises not from somewhere that is naturally in them, but from somewhere that has been built into them through the mathematics education we give them.

Maybe we should spend more time on abstract concepts, ratger than forcing real life contexts. Especially when some of those contexts are ridiculous – who looks at a garden and thinks “that side is x + 4, that side is x – 2, I wonder what the area is?” (See more pseudocontext here and here).

What do you think? Do you think we should be spending more time lower down om the abstract contexts? Please let me know in comments or via social media.## Share this via:

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