Are we preparing young people for the data revolution? Event report

Written by Olivia Varley-Winter on . Posted in Features

In July the Royal Statistical Society held a half-day event, ‘Statistics across the curriculum: are we preparing young people for the data revolution?’. The meeting built on previous research on statistical content across subjects at AS and A Level, in the RSS report A World Full of Data, and in joint RSS and the  Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) report Embedding Statistics at A Level. These reports include recommendations that learned societies, professional bodies and subject associations should ensure that support is made available for those teaching statistics within their subject areas.

The event also gave the wider statistical education community the opportunity to discuss Sir Adrian Smith’s recently announced review (detailed 3/4 of the way down this page) into the feasibility of compulsory maths study for all pupils up to 18. (RSS' comments to the Review can be viewed here.)

In an opening presentation on ‘Policy context: statistics in the new qualification landscape’, Paul Glaister, Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at the University of Reading and chair of the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK (JMC), presented on the key drivers of further study in the mathematical sciences. He highlighted the importance of mathematics to the UK economy (PDF), and opportunities to widen participation, such as new core maths qualifications.

Professor Andy Noyes, head of the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, followed to discuss the qualification landscape, including results from research on who is doing advanced maths and with what benefits. Among students with a grade B at GCSE, the AS-to-A-Level mathematics pathway has been important to raise participation in advanced maths. However this has remained a very unlikely pathway for students holding a grade C, who are expected to benefit more from the offer of Core Maths. Professor Noyes’ work with Dr Mary McAlinden has also gone deeper on statistics across all relevant subjects, following their work on the RSS/ACME report on ‘embedding statistics’ across the reformed A Levels. He and Dr McAlinden have been looking into the statistical and mathematical elements of new sample assessment materials for science.

Noyes’ presentation was followed by Alison Tonkin (Ofqual), who highlighted the regulator’s responsibilities in the accreditation of qualifications. She called for applications from subject experts for their appointment of external advisors.

A panel discussion and Q&A on implementing change was chaired by Simon Gallacher, senior education consultant for the Nuffield Foundation. Speakers from the Core Maths Support Programme, the Association for Science Education (ASE), the Royal Geographical Society, SAS Student Academy, and the Academy of Social Sciences shared updates and perspectives on widening the effective teaching of quantitative skills and statistics in secondary schools and colleges. Speakers focused on their specialties in the sciences, social sciences, computing, geography, and mathematics. New resources for teachers include the ASE guides for science teachers on the language of mathematics, which support consistent presentation of statistical concepts that students will also encounter in their maths studies. Speakers' presentations and further links on teaching programmes and resources can be found in this slide deck (PPTX).

The chair of the day’s event, Neil Sheldon, RSS vice president for education and statistical literacy, closed by summing up the vision for improvement in statistical teaching and learning across five points - these encompassed:

  1. Cross-curricular working
  2. Real-world applications
  3. Differentiation for the different paths students take
  4. Translating and communicating the language of statistics
  5. Understanding, with numbers only a means to an end in teaching.

For the RSS, the event reflected some key policy priorities that the government should keep track of in the coming years, including

  1. Teacher supply and professional development
  2. Implementation of recent subject and grading reforms in England
  3. Signals being broadcast by schools and universities to help maintain and increase student uptake of post-16 maths
  4. The extent to which participation in advanced mathematics is maintained post-reforms (across AS and A Level Mathematics and AS and A Level Statistics)
  5. Adoption of core maths, as universities start to see for themselves what are the benefits of extended study and its maths and statistics content for incoming undergraduates.




Education A-level 'Core Maths' qualification Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

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