A visit to Rochdale Sixth Form College was a cheering experience last week.
This year, 55 per cent of A-levels were at grades A* to B.
True, Eton and Winchester do better. But this track record shows that even poor boroughs – and Rochdale is one of the poorest – have the capacity to deliver high-quality education with good leadership and teaching.
I gave a talk to over 200 A-level students of economics and computer science. They were a lively bunch who asked interesting questions. But the most fascinating piece of information I obtained was in the informal discussions afterwards.
Literally none of these 16-18-year-olds was on Facebook. They all used other apps to communicate with each other and share stories.
Globally, of course, Facebook continues to grow. The latest statistics give the site 2.27bn users who are active at least once a month. This is an increase of some 10 per cent compared to a year ago.
To set against this, it was only just over three months ago that Facebook suffered the biggest one-day loss in the history of Wall Street. The company’s shares dropped nearly 19 per cent.
This appears, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been due to a perception among investors that the reported growth in users was below expectations.
The biggest demographic of users is the 25-34 age group. But right in front of me was a group of bright young people from the demographic immediately below this. And there were no Facebook users.
A powerful way of understanding how things spread on social networks is based on work by the Scots Anderson McKendrick and William Kermack in 1927. This pioneered the mathematical analysis of how epidemics either spread or are contained in a population.
There is now a huge and complex body of scientific literature built on these foundations. But a fundamental point remains: for an epidemic to be sustained, a supply of new people who are susceptible to it is necessary. Otherwise, it eventually fades away.
A related problem seems to confront Apple. The tech company’s shares fell seven per cent in a single day last Friday, on fears that iPhone sales have peaked. In other words, the number of people buying the new models has plateaued – at best.
Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, warned that sales for the Christmas trading period could fall short of Wall Street’s forecasts.
What made the markets even more nervous was the announcement from the company that it would stop publishing the volumes of phones, tablets, and laptops sold. Apple has provided this information during its period of spectacular sales growth over the past 20 years.
Among the students I met, so-called “dumb phones” are rising in popularity. These are designed just to make calls and send texts.
The tech giants are increasingly seen as dangerous monopolies. But in an evolving market economy, even the biggest firm will eventually fail. The Rochdale students could well be revealing the future.