OFQUAL – What’s made me cross this week – A guest posting from Bob Robinson

Timandra Harkness’s verdict, writing in Unherd is coruscating; and boy, when she coruscates it stings. Her view is unequivocal, she states that OFQUAL’s mathematical model for allocating A level grades was a prejudice machine.

“Any one individual’s achievements so far, or their potential in the view of teachers who know them, had less influence on their eventual results than the attainments of others who attended the same school in past years. It’s closer to buying car insurance than taking an exam for which you have worked for nearly two years. Just enter postcode, make, and model and we will predict your likelihood of making a claim, and hence your premium.”


The current hiatus was not supposed to happen. The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) had volunteered to help with what is a complex multivariate analysis. Getting it right depends on clear recognition of the difference between correlation and causation. Just because two numbers move in the same direction it does not mean that they are directly-linked. It is the difference between A happens at the same time as B and A happens because of B. This is known in the trade as a “nonsense” or “spurious” correlation. There is a rigorous process for rooting out such anomalies.

(If you have time to spare it is worthwhile watching Professor Alex Edmond’s masterclass on the dangers of spurious correlation www.ted.com/talks/alex_edmans_what_to_trust_in_a_post_truth_world#t-443345 )

The RSS proposed two distinguished practitioners but found themselves rebuffed by OFQUAL who raised a requirement to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements which would have prevented the experts from commenting on the results for five years. The RSS felt this to be an unreasonable constraint on the dissemination of the broader key lessons that might emerge.

QFQUAL said in response “Throughout the process we have had an expert advisory group in place, first meeting with them in early April. The group includes independent members drawn from the statistical and assessment communities. The advisory group has provided advice, guidance, insight and expertise as we developed the detail of our standardisation approach”.

Based upon the evidence of the last few days would OFQUAL now care to name its advisers and advice etc. from the statistical and assessment community? In exams – this is known as “please show your workings”.

This has been a massive Systems Crash. What we to talk about here is akin to a plane crash enquiry – nothing can ever put a crashed plane back in the air but assembling the pieces bit by bit and evaluating the black box results means that such a disastrous event will not be replicated. Although it might be considered expedient to move the (not yet immune) herd along – this is not “a nothing to see here/one off” situation. Pending the arrival of an effective vaccine, we must be prepared for the medium- and long-term effects of Coronavirus on the education and examinations systems. We cannot assume that this month’s exam results are the only ones that might be impacted. The development of publicly accepted, statistically robust, evaluation systems must be a priority.

Everybody understood the need not to let the Coronavirus overwhelm the NHS – we cannot permit splash back into other critical systems. If only somebody, somewhere could have a light bulb moment and say to both OFQUAL and the RSS – can you please get together and fix this?

WINTER IS COMING – A guest posting by Bob Robinson

“They think it’s all over” – the crowds have flocked to beaches and beauty spots. Pubs and restaurants have reopened albeit with social distancing and face masks – Life is slowly getting back to normal. Come September, children will go back to school. The Government’s strategy is to engineer an economic and a public health recovery and deliver Brexit – a massive economic restructuring exercise. Punchy three-word injunctions, a time honoured oratorial stand-by are back in vogue. I use 3WI’s myself – as you may have noticed this includes the title of my piece. 3WI’s ring a bell.

I just heard a bell ring. One of London’s best kept secrets is Gresham College – situated at Baynard’s Inn on High Holborn, close to Hatton Garden. Gresham College was founded in 1597, It has been providing free lectures within the City of London for over 400 years. They invite distinguished academics, who all share the ability to explain complex issues.. A recent speaker was Sir Chris Witty, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, the UK Government’s Chief Medical Adviser, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care and head of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Unlike his appearances next to the Prime Minister in Downing Street, Professor Witty was given an hour and a half to explain the context and challenges of COVID. He is blessed with the talent of making things you know are complicated and iterative intelligible. He does justice to the scale of the challenge. In addition to speaking about the current pandemic, he drew on the experience of previous pandemics, In particular, he spoke of pandemics that have occurred (a)in a number of waves and that (b) the number of infections in the second and third waves were often greater than that of the first. Spanish Flu killed more people in the United States in the second wave in two months in 1918 than the first wave in 1917. A harsh reality may be about to dawn on us that “it’s not over until it’s over”.

Having set the scene Chris Witty deployed his “Game of Thrones” 3WI – “Winter is Coming”. He drew attention to the facts that diagnosis and isolation will be more difficult. We already appreciate that multi- generational families and those with poor quality homes or no homes face greater difficulties in coping with COVID. The NHS and all other health systems are always under greater pressure in the winter. He also drew attention to the increased risks associated with age and the correlation between age/obesity and death.

But the key 3WI message I drew was that in addition to COVID is “Complacency Can Kill”

You can see Professor Witty’s lecture and read his supporting documents here:


Can I urge you to watch, learn and inwardly digest?

Rainford – More on that rail line east of Kirkby

A ‘Bin Liner’ freight train is headed towards Wigan whilst a Northern Class 150 heads for Kirkby near Rainford Station

No sooner had I blogged about proposals to extend the present Liverpool – Kirkby Merseyrail line a short distance to create a 2nd station within the town of Kirkby than my old friend Bob Robinson sent me details of works being carried out further up the line at Rainford. My posting about the Merseyrail extension is available via this link:-


And this is what’s happening further east in terms of bridge renewal works by Network Rail (18th July – 26th October) where the line crosses the Rainford Bypass:-


‘Bin Liner’ train from Knowsley at Rainford Junction Signal Box

Northern Class 150 heads for Kirkby along the single track section east of Rainford Junction Signal Box

BBC TV Programme from 2018 – Clues to our present health crisis

The BBC has the programme on I Player – see link below:-


The programme ‘Contagion: The BB4 Pandemic’ is from March 2018 and in my humble opinion is worth watching to help us understand how a pandemic develops.

And here’s a 60 second explanation of Coronavirus from the BBC website:-


I hope we can all keep as well as possible in the present circumstances

My thanks to Bob Robinson for the lead to this posting

M58 ‘Ashworth’ Junction – Delayed and costing more say Place North West

Looking towards Maghull over the M58 ‘Ashworth’ junction road works (when work had just commenced) and the vast Maghull East site that is prestly growing the food we eat but is designated for housing.

Place North West has the article on its website – see link below:-


Says Bob Robinson a former project engineer, who brought the article to my attention, ‘Maghull Cost Over-run. The issues causing the over-run are not untypical especially where it is necessary to buy a number of different properties/land to deliver the scheme.’

Looking at recent works to provide a new cycle path from the ‘Ashworth’ junction towards Kirkby

I’ve been watching the works regularly as they are on a cycling route I often use. Sefton Council has had the contractor do some additional works, so I understand, associated with putting in the new cycle path, which has been planned for some time. This work has been done although the whole cycle route to Kirkby is yet to be constructed.

My good friend and former Sefton Borough councillor Cliff Mainey launched the campaign to get this M58 junction made into a full one around 15 years ago. Sadly, although it is now being constructed, it’s alongside a planned and massive urban extension to Maghull of @1,600 houses. The housing is to be built on the very highest quality of agricultural land which I and many others fought against. Sadly we lost.

Note – to be clear the junction is actually in Melling not Maghull

Brexit – The Tories look screwed whatever they do

I was interested to see this blog posting from someone who has a detailed understanding of how the far right operates:-


Whichever way you look at the Conservatives predicament they seem to be staring down both barrels of their own shotgun

My thanks to Bob Robinson for the lead to this posting

And I could not help but agree with this blog posting by Paul Bigland too:-