Second set of findings from 2011 census released

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The Office for National Statistics has released its second set of findings from the 2011 census for England and Wales, focusing on aspects such as living arrangements, religion, ethnicity, country of birth, languages spoken, health and economic activity of the 2011 population.
 
The first set of figures, published in July 2012, showed that the population of England and Wales had increased from 52.4 million in 2001 to 56.1 million in 2011. The data in this second release shows that more than half (55%) of the rise in the population was due to migration. It also records an increase in ethnic diversity over the last ten years; there are now 400,000 fewer white British people than in 2001, and almost one in eight people were born abroad.
 
The data also showed a general decline in religious beliefs, with the number of people with no religion almost doubling from 7.7 million to 14 million. The number of Christians has declined from 72% to 59% of the population in the last ten years.
 
The census found that the number of people privately renting homes has almost doubled in the last ten years, from 1.9 million homes in 2001 to 3.6 million homes in 2011 rented from a private landlord or letting agency. Other key figures in the release looked at health, with four out of every five (81 per cent) describing themselves as being in good or very good health. It also shows that in 2011, more people had a degree (27%), than no qualifications at all (23%).
 
BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani said the census showed that the UK is ‘in the midst of an astonishing era of demographic change due to globalisation’. The BBC website has published a summary of key census figures.
 
The 2011 census is being released in four waves. A third wave is scheduled for March 2013 with a fourth planned for July 2013 (further release date details available here). Results for Northern Ireland were also published today by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. More results for Scotland will be released on Monday (17 December).
 

RSS responds to DfE consultation on replacing GCSEs

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The RSS has submitted its response to the Department for Education’s consultation regarding proposals to reform Key Stage 4 qualifications, which includes replacing GCSEs with English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs).
 
The RSS is keen to ensure that the teaching of statistics is not undermined under the proposed system, which will see different awarding organisations potentially gaining exclusive rights to run exams across different subjects. It is crucial that examining boards coordinate the teaching of statistics across the curriculum if there are to be different examining boards running exams in mathematics, geography and science.
 
The RSS also cautioned that 100% assessment by external examination is inappropriate for a practical subject such as statistics, pointing out that a lack of coursework in mathematics, geography and the sciences runs counter to best practice in statistics teaching. More generally, it considers subject experts to be the people best-placed to decide how skills and knowledge in a subject are assessed, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment across the entire suite of subjects.
 
‘This moment of educational reform provides a wonderful opportunity for the government to recognise the power of statistical understanding in helping learners to make sense of the world,’ said Moussa Haddad, RSS policy and research manager. ‘Data and quantitative information are increasingly prominent in the modern world, and statistical literacy is crucial both as a life skill, and for success in the modern labour market and across a range of academic disciplines.
 
‘It is crucial that, as it reforms, the government recognises the value and necessity of statistical education. It will need to tread carefully in its reforms to make sure that teaching of statistical tools and methods is not lost in the new qualifications, and that due consideration is given to the cross-curricular nature of statistics and necessary co-ordination between exam boards takes place.’
 
The RSS is not the only organisation to voice concerns regarding the new proposals. Exams watchdog Ofqual has already written to the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove. While it welcomed the government’s policy aims, the outlined three core concerns: firstly that the government is attempting to achieve an unrealistic number of aims through a single assessment; secondly that qualifications should not form the sole basis of accountability measurement for secondary schools; and third, that there are problems associated with introducing new qualifications at the same time as scrapping provider competition among awarding organisations.
 

Admin Data Taskforce publishes report on linking government data

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An Administrative Data Taskforce (ADT), which was set up to examine the best ways to make administrative data safely available for research, has just published a report to take the project forward.
 
The ADT, which was set up in 2011 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome Trust, has been working with a range of UK government departments, academic experts and funding agencies to look at how administrative data could be better accessed by government departments and researchers.
 
It recommends forming a UK Administrative Data Research Network that would be responsible for linking data between government departments, with an Administrative Data Research Centre (ADRC) established in each of the four countries in the UK. It also recommends enacting legislation – and providing funding – to facilitate research access to administrative data and allow linkage between government departments. Other recommendations include establishing a researcher accreditation process and implementing a strategy to engage with the public.
 
Professor Paul Boyle, chief executive of the ESRC, said: ‘Our recommendations would allow research that is already technically feasible to be undertaken with integrity in a much more consistent, reliable and efficient manner. This would be of huge value to academic research, but would also benefit research and policy evaluation within government departments, whose researchers are also constrained by the existing arrangements.’
 
Hetan Shah, executive director of the RSS, said: ‘This report makes some important recommendations to look at how the open data agenda can move forward to strengthen research in society. We are very supportive of this, and will be taking a careful look at the recommendations and finding ways to allow for them to be discussed and raised up the agenda’.
 
The full report is available here.
 

£8 million boost for opening up public sector data

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The government has announced more than £8 million of investment to help its departments, agencies and local authorities to release data so that new commercial opportunities may be developed.
 
The bulk of the funding, which runs until 2015, will create a new £7.5m Data Strategy Board Breakthrough Fund, to which public sector bodies can apply for funding to release data where there are short-term technical barriers.
 
A further £850,000 will go towards establishing an Open Data Immersion Programme, which will provide support to companies looking to reuse data to develop ideas for new products and services. A series of themed events and competitions run by the Open Data Institute will be aimed at helping SMEs and start-ups to understand potential business opportunities in different data sets. Competition winners will receive an investment of £20,000 to £25,000  to take their concepts into early product development.
 
Stephan Shakespeare, chair of the independent Data Strategy Board, explained: ‘The combined stimulus package contains new measures aimed at opening up access to public data to stimulate economic growth and to develop more efficient and transparent public services.’
 
One example of this relationship is the announcement of an upgrade to Ordnance Survey (OS) OpenData, where people can now create and customise different maps thanks to upgrades to its online portal, which provides free access to a large range of mapping datasets.
 
More details of the different measures can be found on the Data Strategy Board website. All of the measures announced are expected to be in place by early April 2013.
 

RSS fellow Frank Duckworth to appear on University Challenge

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RSS  fellow and editor of RSS NEWS, Frank Duckworth, is to appear on  the iconic and long-running TV quiz ‘University Challenge’.
 
A special Christmas series featuring notable alumni from UK universities or colleges will be broadcast on BBC2 from the week commencing Monday 17 December. Frank is famed for co-authoring the Duckworth/Lewis method of resetting targets in interrupted one-day cricket matches.
 
Frank will be a member of the team representing Liverpool University from where he graduated in 1961. His team colleagues are design critic and author Stephen Bayley (captain), chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook and medical and science editor for ITV News  Lawrence McGinty.
 
The series features 14 teams who play seven first-round matches. The four winners with the highest scores progress to the semi-final stage, to be broadcast after Christmas .  The edition which features Frank’s first round match airs on Thursday 20  December.
 
 

RSS president Valerie Isham to hand over baton to John Pullinger for 2013

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Professor Valerie Isham’s two year stewardship as RSS president comes to an end at midnight, 31 December, 2012, when the current RSS president-elect, John Pullinger, will take on the mantle.
 
Valerie has helped to consolidate the work of the society during a period of rapid change, including a change of executive director and other senior staff. She has been tireless behind the scenes, ensuring the flow of volunteers into activities and securing honorary officers, and has provided valuable input into thinking about the society’s future financial models. She has also represented the RSS at numerous meetings and events, and maintained relations with a wide variety of stakeholders as well as helping to develop links with new ones.
 
Talking about her time as president, Valerie said: ‘When I succeeded David Hand, the society had undergone a period of major initiatives and new activities, and had just launched the getstats campaign. Given this, and the constraints on its finances imposed by the global recession, it seemed appropriate to consolidate and build on existing activities rather than launching new ones.
 
‘Nevertheless, I particularly wanted to give an emphasis to academic affairs as I felt that this area had been rather neglected during recent efforts to promote professional and external affairs. Also, I felt it was important to try to mobilise more of our membership and to develop our links with other learned societies and charities with which we have research, educational or other aims in common, as these would be the best way to further our aims, especially when resources are limited.’
 
Looking forward, Valerie concluded: ‘For the future, a strategic review of RSS activities is underway with a report due mid-2013, and the current membership survey will provide input on members’ wishes.’
 
The president of the Royal Statistical Society has a strong influence on the policy and activities of the society, and during her tenure, Valerie has made her own mark, particularly regarding academic affairs. She helped develop the Academic Affairs Advisory Group, represents the society on the Council of Mathematical Sciences and has also been intrinsic in developing its relationship with all the UK’s research councils, meeting regularly with the EPSRC to discuss ways to support statistics following the report of the International Review of Mathematical Sciences in 2010.
 
Prior to her presidency, Valerie had various roles within the RSS, including chairing the Research Section committee and acting as vice president during the presidencies of Adrian Smith and Robert Curnow. She was also theme director for meetings and conferences as well as vice president for academic affairs.
 
Outside of the RSS, Valerie has served on many advisory committees and expert groups including official working groups on HIV, foot and mouth disease and the biological impacts of climate change. She has been professor of probability and statistics at UCL since 1992, where she continues to specialise in applied probability and conduct research in areas including point processes, the dynamics of processes on networks, and hydrological applications.
 
The staff and fellows of the RSS would like to offer the warmest of thanks to Valerie for the work she has done for both the society and for statistics generally, and wish her the very best for her future endeavours.
 

Recommendations for a new post-16 maths qualification focus on numerical problem solving

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The Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education (ACME) has published two reports with recommendations on how to increase the uptake for mathematics in England for all pupils post-16.
 
The first report, ‘Post-16 Mathematics’, provides an overview of how the current system needs to change. The second, ‘Planning for Success’, describes practical steps that will need to take place in order for this to happen.
 
‘Post-16 Mathematics’ recommends that a new ‘problem solving’ based maths qualification should be distinct from A level maths and taken by those not studying maths at advanced level. It recommends that the new qualification be studied over two years but contain less work than an A level with an emphasis on solving realistic problems. ‘The key goal for any new post-16 qualifications in mathematics should be to develop […] an understanding of mathematics through motivation and engagement,’ the report states in its executive summary. ‘This is more likely to be achieved if the qualifications concentrate on using mathematics to develop and solve problems in realistic contexts.’
 
ACME recommends that A and AS levels should still be clearly seen as the route into advanced study of maths and science. It also recommends that the mathematical content of other qualifications be raised to show how maths is applied in different contexts.
 
The Committee is keen to emphasise the importance of getting employers and universities ‘on side’ when the new qualification is introduced. ‘We are convinced that dramatically increasing participation in mathematics for these students will not happen without some form of accountability ‘stick’,’ said ACME chair Stephen Sparks. ‘ACME is convinced that a number of approaches will be required to change behaviours.’
 
One of the practical approaches recommended in ACME’s second report, ‘Planning for Success’ proposes holding discussions with university admissions service UCAS and universities to encourage admissions tutors to make the new qualification a requirement for certain courses.
 
ACME also articulated the key role that learned societies such as the RSS should play in implementing the new qualification. ‘ACME and DfE [the Department for Education] should jointly monitor progress with the strategy and intervene when necessary,’ it said. ‘Higher education, learned societies, employers and teachers should be engaged in this process.’
 
Roeland Beerten, director of professional and public affairs at the RSS said: ‘We welcome the ACME recommendation to develop a qualification which should have significant statistical content. Statistics is a key component in every day numerical problem solving, and it is essential we equip all pupils with the statistical skills necessary to successfully move into employment or higher education.
 
‘The RSS will be a key stakeholder in the development of such a qualification and we will be working with relevant bodies to promote and implement this recommendation.’
 

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