Normal distribution is the only one normally taught at schools …

A recent paper: Anders Eklunda, Thomas E. Nicholsd, and Hans Knutssona, Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1602413113,

sends a pretty grim message:

The most widely used task functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analyses use parametric statistical methods that depend on a variety of assumptions. In this work, we use real resting-state data and a total of 3 million random task group analyses to compute empirical familywise error rates for the fMRI software packages SPM, FSL, and AFNI, as well as a nonparametric permutation method. For a nominal familywise error rate of 5%, the parametric statistical methods are shown to be conservative for voxelwise inference and invalid for clusterwise inference. Our results suggest that the principal cause of the invalid cluster inferences is spatial autocorrelation functions that do not follow the assumed Gaussian shape. By comparison, the nonparametric permutation test is found to produce nominal results for voxelwise as well as clusterwise inference. These findings speak to the need of validating the statistical methods being used in the field of neuroimaging.

Implications are very serious:

Functional MRI (fMRI) is 25 years old, yet surprisingly its most common statistical methods have not been validated using real data. Here, we used resting-state fMRI data from 499 healthy controls to conduct 3 million task group analyses. Using this null data with different experimental designs, we estimate the incidence of significant results. In theory, we should find 5% false positives (for a significance threshold of 5%), but instead we found that the most common software packages for fMRI analysis (SPM, FSL, AFNI) can result in false-positive rates of up to 70%. These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results.

Alas, too many people think that everything is normal…

Almost half of primary pupils miss new Sats standard

From the BBC:

Official data shows just over half (53%) of 11-year-olds made the grade in reading, writing and mathematics. […]

Department for Education statistics show:

  • 66% of pupils met the standard in reading
  • 70% in maths
  • 72% in grammar, punctuation and spelling
  • 74% in the teacher-assessed writing

The overall figure of 53% relates to the number of pupils who reached the expected standard in all three subjects.

Read the full story.

Knowsley ends A-level provision

From BBC, 30 June 2016

A Merseyside borough will have no A-level provision after the government approved the closure of the area’s only sixth form offering the qualification.

The sixth form at Halewood Academy in Knowsley will shut in August 2017 after the Department for Education agreed it could stop providing A-levels.

Principal Gary Evans said it was “sad” but left the academy in a stronger financial position.

Education chiefs pledged to get an another A level plan in place by 2017

Read the full story.

Ucas data reveal inequality in university admissions

A paper by Chris Havergal in Times Higher Education. Some quotes:

The first-ever release of Ucas data at institutional level shows that the University of Cambridge admitted only 65 18-year-olds from the UK’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in 2015, while it gave places to 1,260 learners from the most advantaged backgrounds. Taken as a proportion of the total size of these groups, this meant that the most privileged students were 16 times more likely to win a place.

The overall ratio for the Russell Group of highly selective institutions was 7.7, but this remained significantly higher than the UK-wide average of 2.45. At providers with the lowest entry standards, the most privileged students were only 12 per cent more likely to get in.

Read the whole article.


Peter Gates: Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice: Meaningful Projects for the Secondary Mathematics Classroom

I’d like to draw your attention to a new book: ‘Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice: Meaningful Projects for the Secondary Mathematics Classroom’. The aim of the book is to share teaching resources and ideas generated from the TMSJ Research Project (a participatory action research project). The book was published by the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in April 2016.
The book is:

* Aimed at teachers of mathematics who are interested in addressing issues of social justice in their classrooms.
* Based on the premise that conventional approaches to teaching maths do not adequately address the needs of all learners or the needs of society as a whole.
* Suitable for students in Key Stages 3 and 4, those studying the new ‘core mathematics’ curriculum and for those on post-compulsory numeracy courses.
* Written in a style that allows teachers to use the ideas in a flexible, creative and non-prescriptive way.
The book contains:

* Seven projects addressing issues of social justice in the mathematics classroom;
* Twenty task sheets designed to be photocopied for students;
* Teachers’ notes offering ideas for supporting and developing classroom practice;
* Six accessible research articles exploring the theories underlying the teaching ideas.

Further details of the book can be found on:

and on the ATM website:

Dr Peter Gates


University wipes out gender pay gap

From BBC:

A UK university is giving its female professors a one-off salary hike to wipe out the gender pay gap with their male colleagues.

The University of Essex is raising female professors’ pay, to bring their average salaries level with the men.

It comes as UK pay data analysis by the Times Higher Education says full-time female academics are paid 11% less than men.

Essex said the move was motivated by “impatience” for change over the issue.

It is not just a step in right direction, it is a step that shows that other universities attempt to  perform moonwalk on the issue.


Mathematics Education for the next Decade, September 10-15, 2017

The 13th International Conference of the Mathematics Education for the Future Project in Catania, Sicily September 2015, was attended by 130 people from 22 countries. The next conference will be held NEXT YEAR at Balatonfüred, Balaton lake, Hungary from September 10-15, 2017. The conference title, Mathematics Education for the next Decade, continues our search for innovation in mathematics, science, computing and statistics education. Our thirteen previous conferences since 1999 were renowned for their friendly and productive atmosphere, and attracted many /movers and shakers/ from around the world.

We now call for papers and workshop summaries for presentation at the conference and publication in the printed conference proceedings. For further details and updates please email alan >>at<<

The international conference on E-Assessment in Mathematical Sciences

The international conference on E-Assessment in Mathematical Sciences is a two-day academic conference organised by Newcastle University.

The conference aims to bring together researchers and practitioners with an interest in e-assessment for mathematics and the sciences. It will consist of a mix of presentations of new techniques, and pedagogic research, as well as workshops where you can get hands-on with leading e-assessment software.

The conference website is

The deadline for talk proposals is next Tuesday, the 31st of May (though that might be extended if we don’t get too many proposals in the next week), and the deadline for delegate registration is the 30th of June.

Christian Lawson-Perfect

Mathematics in the news this week

France DGSE: Spy service sets school code-breaking challenge

France’s external intelligence service, the DGSE, has sponsored a school competition to find the nation’s most talented young code-breakers.

It is the first time the DGSE has got involved in such a project in schools.

The first round drew in 18,000 pupils, and just 38 competed in the final on Wednesday, won by a Parisian team.


STEM Competitions Motivate Students :

“The main message is mathematics is not about numbers and figures,” [Mark] Saul said. “It’s about figuring things out. Whenever you’re figuring something out, you’re doing something mathematical.”

Rebecca Hanson Launches A Breakthrough in Maths Teaching for Primary Students :

Rebecca Hanson has opened her agency Authentic Maths to help Primary School Teachers in the UK offering solutions to the difficulties being experienced with the implementation of the Government’s changes to the primary mathematics curriculum.

UK follows Russia’s example to set up specialist sixth form maths colleges:

A key figure in the establishment of specialist maths institutions in the UK was Baroness (Alison) Wolf, a professor at King’s College London. She knew about Russian maths skills because of her work in universities, where maths departments often attract a fair few Russian academics.

Initially, the idea in the UK was for universities to set up a nationwide network of specialist maths schools. However, only King’s College London and Exeter have taken the plunge.

Tony Brown: Can England Staff its Schools?

Key issues in the supply of Qualified Teachers in the light of the Education White Paper 2016 – a Scrutiny Seminar 4-6pm Monday June 6th 2016.

The Education White Paper 2016 makes bold claims for the supply of teachers in English schools and the future training of qualified teaching staff. The key thrust of the paper is to shift the balance of teaching into schools, asserting that existing moves to schools’ level, notably School Direct, have proved successful. Involvement of universities (HEIs) is to be limited to a few ‘top’ universities, while standards would be set by headteachers in a few elite training schools.

But are the proposals in Chapter 2 acceptable? Given the widely reported claims of teacher shortages, have the current systems proved successful? And will the proposals improve or damage the supply of Qualified Teachers? How do they relate to the ongoing policy of academisation, with the intention of allowing all schools to employ unqualified teaching staff?

It is a fundamental contradiction that schools following the plans outlined must apply a lengthy, variable accreditation process for qualification – without Qualified Teacher Status being granted – but academies can employ unqualified staff in the classroom.

The Scrutiny Seminar will examine three key issues in the light of the overall thrust of the paper and the ongoing debate on teacher shortages in English Schools. These are

  • the implications for teacher training/education in English schools through accreditation at school level
  • the role of school based training notably School Direct
  • the effect on individual subject provision, with mathematics as a case study, with the definition of a mathematics teacher and the current drive through bursaries and adverts to attract staff suggesting specific and general issues with supply.

The speakers will be

  • Alison Ryan of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers on the implications for schools
  • Professor Tony Brown of Manchester Metropolitan University on the latest research on School Direct provision
  • Dr Sue Pope of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics on the case study of supply of Mathematics teachers

The meeting will be chaired jointly by Lord Watson of Invergowrie and Trevor Fisher of SOSS

To book a place at the seminar send your details to richardksidley >>at<< It will take place in the House of Lords. Attendance applications must be received by 5pm on 3rd June.

Sponsored by the Symposium on Sustainable Schools (SOSS)