The Bradford mutants strike back.

David Goodhart responds to Jonathan Portes and it’s as bad as you might expect. To focus, remember he said 50% of schoolchildren in Bradford have special educational needs? Here’s the tape:

Bradford has just opened two more schools for children with Special Educational Needs,’ he writes. ‘On some measures nearly half of all children in the area qualify for special help.’

Goodhart tries to source it:

One of the main authorities on cousin marriage within the Pakistani community in Bradford is a woman called Nuzhat Ali who told me that almost 30 per cent of Pakistani children suffer from mild or severe disability as a result of cousin marriage adding “that almost half have special needs at school.

Before quoting this, he tries to hide behind “on some measures”, but the quote clearly refers to having special educational needs, a term which has a legal definition and which is what the ONS counts. And suddenly all is clear. Making the charitable assumption that this isn’t just some random person he met, this could actually be the truth…if you stick with what she said rather than Goodhart’s gloss on it.

50% of the subgroup of children with Pakistani origins who have mild or severe disability might well be statemented for SEN. That’s kind of the point of SEN. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if 50% of white kids who have a mild or severe disability were statemented, because the point of statementing is precisely to give disabled kids additional help. Obviously, that’s 50% of 30%*, i.e. 15% of Pakistani children, so the question is 15% * (fraction of Pakistanis in BradMet schools).

The variable is, I think, less than 0.5 = 50%, so your answer is something less than 7.5% of the total school population, rather than 50% of the total.

If the relevant subgroup was those children, of Pakistani origin, who have a mild or severe disability that is positively identified as the result of cousin marriage, which is an alternative reading of the quote, the subgroup in question would be even smaller (some kids have disabilities for other reasons or none) and so would the final score. I don’t believe it is, though, because 30% is implausibly high.

My guess is that she is talking sense, but Goodhart either got his sums wrong or didn’t care. Meanwhile, Goodhart apparently wants to wave the Very Serious Journalist Cock even though he’s not actually a journalist and never has been and talk about going out of London and talking to people, not “looking at databases”, in a weird vaudeville of the US pundits vs. Nate Silver.

But this is serious business, as is this.

*Rather, it’s 50% of “almost 30 per cent”, which could be as little as 25%. As the national average is 20% and the maximum 27%, that would be getting close to the point at which you might think there was actually nothing to see here at all and kick the null hypothesis over the main stand. But there is no way of knowing how much exaggeration is at work here.

10 Comments on "The Bradford mutants strike back."

  1. I think the original factoid, sourced as far as I can tell to a Panorama program that was probably reliable, is that, probably because of cousin marriage, Pakistani children account for roughly 30% of all genetic illnesses in the UK (vs 3% of population). Everything else looks to me like Chinese whispers (or indeed, accumulation of random mutations) from that.

    Also, the majority of genetic illnesses transmitted by cousin marriage are physical ailments like hole-in-the-heart or cystic fibrosis; also Down’s Syndrome but that’s a rare condition. This idea that children of cousin marriages are all in-breds and mentally slow comes from one part Deliverance to two parts stand-up comedy.

    Btw, assuming there aren’t two Nuzhat Alis, although she may be “one of the main authorities on cousin marriage in the Pakistani community”, she isn’t an epidemiologist or even a medical doctor. She’s got a degree in education studies and is studying for one in Islamic Studies.


  2. An actual expert on birth defects in Bradford is Neil Small, professor at the university there who has done a big cohort study called “Born in Bradford”. Googling around, I found a number as high as 1 in 11 for getting a recessive gene-linked condition if your parents were cousins from a community in which cousin marriage was common (vs 1 in 40 for the population). Since a lot of the recessive gene-linked conditions are unfortunately neonatal deaths, and quite a lot more are mild or non-learning-related, the 30% figure has to be tonto.

    The Goodhart article is real Friedman stuff:

    The Bradford office of the council of mosques has a room for mildly disabled children and one for severely disabled.

    It’s called the Council For Mosques, not of, per google again. And it doesn’t have these rooms in its “office” – it runs two community centres, each of which operates a program to help learning-disabled youths with religious requirements. Given that Bradford’s a city of 300,000 people, I would guess that this is neither the sum total of its provision for SEN children, nor a recent addition.


  3. What’s really frustrating about all this is that this stuff is not even hard. According to Bradford MDC, 20% of Bradford’s 500,000 people are of Pakistani origin. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) 75% of people of Pakistani origin in Bradford originate from Mirpur (a slightly higher proportion than nationally). And, according to Nuzhat Ali, in Bradford about 30 per cent of Mirpuri children suffer from mild or severe disability. Almost half have special needs at school. So, even taking this unsourced figure at face value, that’s “almost half” of 75% of 10%, i.e. <7.5% – not "nearly half of all children in the area".

    Would SEN include ESOL, btw? Because we also read
    even third and fourth generation Mirpuris can be semi-lingual in three languages when they go to school—Urdu, Pahari (spoken in Mirpur) and English—and this often hinders their academic progress.
    OTOH, this in itself is probably bollocks (wtf is “semi-lingual”?) – my wife spoke Polish & understood English until the age of 5, then went to school & switched to speaking English & understanding Polish. Childhood language acquisition is an amazing thing.

    Oh, and Portes’ reply is a thing of beauty.


  4. I live in Bradford. A friend of mine is the project manager for Born in Bradford. I’ll see if I get what data exists exists and post it up. My children go to school in mixed Bradford schools and, while language barriers exist, there’s no sense of any great issue with learning difficulties among Asian kids – you wouldn’t expect them all to end up at SEN schools.


  5. Reply

    1. It’s quite startling that the baseline rate of birth defects is 50% higher in the Pakistani population than in the white British population. (And that is an understatement, since “the general Pakistani population” includes Pakistani women over the age of 34, who might be expected to have double the birth-defect rate of their younger colleagues.)


      1. Are the 3% and 2% figures comparable? Not sure they are.

        The 3% Pakistani baseline figure for non-cousin marriages comprises all age groups, I think.

        The 2% White British baseline figure is for under 34s only.


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