The new year brought a new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, following a Cabinet reshuffle on 8 January. We wrote to Damian Hinds to summarise some of the Society's priorities for education and skills in 2018, outlined below.
The RSS believes that everyone needs to be able to use and interpret statistical information, to benefit their studies (regardless of subject), their everyday lives, their engagement in the democratic process, and their future careers. Statistics and data are increasingly important to a wide range of subjects and areas of industry and commerce. Employers have unmet demand for people with strong numeracy skills that can be applied, and there is a substantial skills gap in data-driven industries.
In education, all students must be able to question, challenge and contextualise statistical information; interpreting data and statistical results in the context of the original problem. As such, we have championed the need for students to be taught statistics in realistic, modern contexts, using realistic data, and we are pleased to see this now taking place in subjects including A level Geography and A level Mathematics.
In 2018, we hope to see progress in the following areas in England:
The implementation of the Adrian Smith review for mathematical skills
Professor Sir Adrian Smith’s review of post-16 mathematics provides a roadmap for improving mathematical skills across the range of education providers in England. We look forward to seeing all the recommendations implemented, including:
- Ensuring that students have access to a range of suitable pathways to develop their mathematical skills, including Functional Skills, Core Maths, A and AS level Statistics, and A and AS level Mathematics and Further Mathematics.
- Improving awareness and take-up of the Core Maths qualification.
- Ensuring technical education development has appropriate and timely expert advice on mathematical content.
- Reviewing the 16-18 GCSE resit policy with the aim that a greater proportion of students without a grade C or equivalent attain appropriate mathematical understanding by age 18.
- Understanding the cultural and other root causes of negative attitudes to mathematics.
- Preparing for the long-term implications of the rise of data science as an academic and professional field.
Improving basic numeracy skills in adults and young people
Basic numeracy skills form the foundation for understanding data and statistical information. The Conservative Party manifesto pledged to strengthen the teaching of numeracy in the early years. This is admirable, but efforts must be made to address issues of innumeracy in secondary schools and the adult working population also.
Increase teacher retention, recruitment, and skills
Crucially, we believe the Department for Education needs to ensure that teachers across the education system have the skills and capacity to teach modern data handling and statistical techniques. Increasing the uptake of mathematical courses post-16 will require more teachers of mathematics, of course, in schools and in colleges. In addition, curriculum reforms have recognised the increased role of data in subjects as varied as geography, biology, business and psychology. Organisations such as the STEM Learning Centre, Nuffield Foundation, Association for Science Education and the Royal Geographical Society have all undertaken work to support teachers in a range of subjects to teach data skills better; more such activity is required. The re-incorporation of the National College of Teaching and Leadership’s recruitment functions into the department offers an opportunity to improve recruitment and retention. In short, there is a need to redouble efforts to recruit, retain, and professionally develop teachers.
Develop quantitative skills in higher education
The improvements in number and data skills at school need to be reflected in improvements at university also. University courses should develop people’s skills to participate at higher levels in the data economy. As highlighted in the report “Mathematical sciences: Driving the UK economy” by the Council for Mathematical Sciences, mathematical sciences currently contribute 16% of UK Gross Value Added and 10% of all jobs.
We would like to see continued support for quantitative skills in disciplines within and beyond the social sciences that have a systematic shortfall, development of programmes to develop advanced quantitative methods, and more resources for training centres to work across disciplines and collaborate with other universities. A greater supply and uptake of doctoral and post-doctoral training would also be valuable both for research institutes and for industry. Coordination on this issue across research and higher education funding, oversight of which is now split between BEIS and DfE, would be very welcome.
Ensure that accountability frameworks for universities are up to scratch
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is now being implemented. Our considered view is that there is a need for further thought, as the metrics in the framework may not measure properly what the Government wishes TEF to address. For example, courses in which it is more difficult to achieve a high grade may receive low student satisfaction ratings irrespective of the teaching quality. We look forward to the independent review in 2019, and would welcome reassurance that this will be fully resourced and the review team is given the mandate and scope to undertake the review in the most effective manner.
These priorities have been outlined in a letter to Damian Hinds, the new Secretary of State for Education (PDF).