Dear Justine Greening: RSS priorities for new education secretary

Written by Scott Keir and Olivia Varley-Winter on . Posted in Features

Justine Greening’s remit as Secretary of State for Education has been expanded to include higher and further education skills; responsibilities previously split with the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

This expanded remit gives an unparalleled opportunity to ensure that everyone in England has the skills and support to develop to their full potential.

Justine Greening is one of several senior ministers that the Society has written to in Theresa May’s new cabinet. The letters outlined various aspects of our Data Manifesto relevant to each minister’s portfolio, and current priority areas of RSS policy.

As ministers and staff settle in to their newly expanded Department in time for the new academic year, here’s a summary of some of the Society’s priorities for education and skills. As we wrote in January, this is an active and busy area of work for the Society, and we will continue to work on this over the year ahead.

Give everyone the skills they need for their future, and the future of the nation

Data is everywhere. Everyone needs to be able to handle and interpret data to benefit their studies, to engage in democracy, to work and to make decisions at home. We urged the Secretary of State to address the lack of basic numeracy skills in some children and adults, skills that form the foundation for understanding data and statistical literacy. Work to tackle this must start early in school and continue in colleges and universities and into the world of work.

In school, all young people should be able to gain experience in handling data, using realistic problem-solving contexts. The recent subject and grading reforms in England offer several opportunities for this across the curriculum. Implementation and participation must be monitored carefully, a point we made to the Secretary of State.

Improve the mathematical skills of all young people from age 16 to 18

We believe that mathematical education for all students between 16 and 18 is necessary and appropriate.

We have welcomed the introduction of the new 'Core Maths' qualifications, and the revisions to A level Mathematics and A level Statistics, which were introduced as a result of recent reforms. These changes allow for the following complementary pathways from 16-18:

  • functional skills and GCSE equivalents for students with insufficient prior attainment;
  • Core Maths to maintain and extend students’ skills gained at GCSE with realistic contexts and applied problem-solving;
  • AS and A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics as preparation for higher education in science and engineering subjects;
  • AS and A level Statistics for students keen to develop applied statistical and data analysis skills in preparation for further study in psychology, biology, finance, and social science degrees focusing on quantitative research, quantitative analysis and reasoning with data.

The previous Chancellor appointed Sir Adrian Smith to review the teaching and learning of mathematics and possible growth of participation post-16. We  contributed (PDF) to the review, and look forward to the government’s response after Sir Adrian reports in this year.

Increase teacher recruitment, retention and skills

The UK needs to train and professionally develop teachers to encourage data literacy in young people from an early age. Recruitment and development of subject experts is therefore an area that we would like the Secretary of State, and her Department, to attend to and strongly support. We know, for example, that it is a real challenge for schools and colleges to follow up on accountability and performance reforms, due to shortages of subject experts.

Meanwhile, to help all teachers, their understanding and handling of data must be supported. The DfE commissioned a series of reports, published on 12 July, which recommended that teachers need to understand empirical research methods, and that mentors should help trainees to interpret research. We have expressed our support for this.

Develop quantitative skills in higher education

We have seen a welcome focus on quantitative skills in higher education, particularly in the social sciences. We have supported activities by the British Academy, the Nuffield Foundation, HEFCE and ESRC that support and develop quantitative skills.

We would like to see the existing support for quantitative methods built upon so that training works across disciplines and across universities. This would include development of programmes to develop advanced quantitative methods, and more resources for training centres to work across disciplines and collaborate with other universities.

Ensure that accountability frameworks for universities are up to scratch

The Department for Education now has responsibility for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a new system for monitoring and assessing university teaching. Our response to the technical consultation on the TEF suggests a need for further thought on several of the metrics proposed. We referred to this in our letter to the Secretary of State, and also expressed our support that there should be further consideration of whether data and metrics do the job of properly informing education provision and student choices.

Adapt to future needs

This is a time of rapid change in industry, business and research, as new technologies, techniques, applications and ways of thinking and working are developed. Many of these changes have the possibility to influence education and skills developments.

The RSS continues to work to ensure that education is fit for purpose now and in the future – whether through championing the data skills needs of young people, or keeping a watching eye on developments in data science.

Find out more about our school education and higher education work on the RSS website.

Photo of Justine Greening courtesy of Simon Davis.           



Education Department for Education GCSE A-level 'Core Maths' qualification

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