The UK has a decentralised system for government statistics, which means you will find statisticians working across a wide variety of government departments rather than in one place. Very often these statisticians work closely with (but independent of) policy staff in the department. The Government Statistical Service (GSS) is the umbrella organisation which brings together all statisticians across government; it is headed by the National Statistician.
The largest employer of statisticians in government is the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS is the country’s largest producer of statistics and is responsible for collecting and publishing a wide range of statistics.
A post as a government statistician can be very varied, and you can find yourself contributing to research and methodological work or to the production of regular statistical series such as the unemployment figures, statistics on road accidents or environmental issues. Many posts offer the chance to work on high profile statistics that feature regularly in the media, or are key to government decision making.
Take a look at our profile of government statistician Oliver Dormon to learn more.
There are varying levels and types of qualifications you will need for different types of jobs in government statistics. For some jobs you will need at least a 2:1 in a degree with at least 25% statistical content (e.g. statistics, psychology, maths, economics). For other posts, for example statistician posts in the GSS, you will need to hold a first or second class degree in a discipline containing formal training in statistics.
Typically, you will enter at a level which is in line with the overall civil service grading; for example ONS recruits at the RO (Research Officer) and SRO (Senior Research Officer) level, with RO being aimed at recent graduates and SRO at those with more experience or higher qualifications.
Salaries for government statisticians vary between departments and locations. In London, average starting pay is around £29,000 for assistant statisticians, £26,000 for statistical officers and temporary statistical officers. Regionally, average starting pay is around £26,000 for assistant statisticians, £23,000 for statistical officers and temporary statistical officers.
Some departments operate a flexible starting pay policy to recognise previous experience and qualifications. Increases in pay depend purely on performance. Once you enter at a more senior level (eg Grade 7 Statistician), starting salaries are around £44,000 to £50,000.
There are substantial staff benefits such as a generous annual holiday entitlement and the opportunity to join either a final salary occupational pension scheme or a money-purchase ‘partnership’ scheme. Salaries for all staff are reviewed annually and vacancies for posts open to existing GSS employees are advertised regularly throughout the GSS. Promotions are made on merit and will generally involve an interview with senior GSS staff.
Roles are varied, but a typical role will involve responsibility for one or more outputs or research projects with limited supervision. Time management and work planning are therefore vital as is the ability to learn new skills and engage with coworkers. Expertise is distributed throughout the various teams and so communication with other teams is of paramount importance.
Some roles may also require staff to become proficient with statistical or analytical packages that are used in their teams, and also to drive development of new work. Staff are encouraged to take advantage of training and to stay abreast of developments in related fields of statistical work, and opportunities exist to attend seminars and training on a wide range of topics.
Some posts will have responsibility for staff management, and as such will be required to supervise and support more junior members of staff with their roles. This will also include management of formal mid and end year review procedures and with HR support disciplinary and sickness management.
As civil servants all staff are expected to follow the civil service code of practice and staff are expected to undertake continuous professional development throughout their careers.
Recruitment is managed centrally through the GSS recruitment website.
As a civil servant there are a range of opportunities for progression both within and externally to the ONS. Promotion is achieved through fair and open competition and junior staff would expect to consider applying for a promotion board after 3-4 years. These promotion boards are run as and when vacant positions are available.
Interchange between government departments is supported and staff can undertake fixed-term secondments to other departments to broaden their experience and skill set.
One of the key strengths of the Government Statistical Service is its wide breadth of work, as well as the opportunity to grow and advance your career within the service.
There is a large variety of jobs on offer and there are plenty of opportunities to move between them so you can gain experience in different areas. This could be seen by some as a disadvantage as (especially junior) staff are discouraged from specialising too much in any one role meaning that it will be rare to remain in any one team to become an expert.
More senior positions will tend to move away from statistical work, and increasing amounts of your time will be occupied with management issues, rather than complex statistical problem solving or working with technical statistical tools.
In some areas, especially those with direct policy relevance, it can be exciting to see your work being picked up by the media, or being used to help shape government policy – but even if it doesn’t, it’s still an exciting and rewarding world you can be part of.