Rolls-Royce cites role of STEM education in increasing gender diversity in engineering

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The venerable UK manufacturer Rolls-Royce has said it is committed to increasing gender diversity in its workforce and has highlighted the importance of its “work with schools and universities to encourage diversity … amongst those taking science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects”.
 
Presently the company has only one female board member, and it wants to increase gender diversity in top management in line with Lord Davies’ recommendations on women in boardrooms (pdf format, opens in new window).
 
Rolls-Royce says it is “taking a number of steps to ensure that females have every opportunity to maximise their potential in our organisation.” This includes the participation of “senior female Rolls-Royce executives” in the FTSE100 Cross Company Mentoring Programme, whose aim is to mentor senior females to achieve non-executive director and/or executive director roles.
 
At the other end of the career ladder, Rolls-Royce has a higher proportion of women apprentices in its workforce than the average in the sector according to Royal Academy of Engineering figures.
 
But the company says that the “demographic profile of those participating in STEM subjects and careers continues to present challenges in this area, and requires a long-term and holistic response.”
 
Recently published research from the Wellcome Trust shows that “around 40 per cent of students were put off science because they found it difficult or boring”. But the Trust highlighted the importance of good teaching, and cites other research showing that “girls are especially motivated by good teaching and put off by boring teaching”.
 
The Royal Academy of Engineering has been running a campaign to increase diversity in engineering (pdf format, opens in new window).
 

Wellcome Trust finds that investment in teachers makes “all the difference”

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The millions of pounds invested in programmes to attract teachers into science and mathematics and provide high-quality professional development through the Science Learning Centres “really seems to be paying off”, but “we must keep investing in teachers,” Sir John Holman of the Wellcome Trust has said.
 
Sir John, a senior fellow for education at the Wellcome Trust and former director of the National Science Learning Centre, said that the National Audit Office has confirmed that professional development at the Science Learning Centres is directly related to higher attainment.
 
Five years ago school science and maths looked to be in long-term decline he observed. But the subsequent investment of £140 million under the previous government’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme “now seems to be paying dividends, with this year’s A-level numbers suggesting that the decline has been well and truly reversed”.
 
Sir John’s comments, made in the light of encouraging 2011 A-level and GCSE results, were posted in an opinion piece The Science and maths – doing well, but must do better on the Trust’s website.
 
Since 2006, while the total number of A-levels taken has grown by less than eight per cent, there has been a 40 per cent increase in pupils studying maths at A-level. Likewise the numbers choosing ‘triple science’ – physics, chemistry and biology – as separate GCSEs has increased substantially.
 
The economic outlook and advent of university tuition fees are driving the growth he said, as “students and their parents realise that choosing STEM subjects is a good bet for securing a well-paid job”.
 
Sir John praised teachers “who meet students day in and day out and … who can do most to inspire”.
 
However, “this isn’t the time to be complacent,” he warned. He cited Nuffield Foundation research showing that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland fewer than one in five of students study mathematics post-16, the lowest levels of participation in a comparative study of 24 ‘developed’ countries.
 
“In the end, everything comes down to good teaching. The Wellcome Trust’s research (pdf format opens in new window) found that around 40 per cent of students were put off science because they found it difficult or boring, and other research makes it clear that girls are especially motivated by good teaching and put off by boring teaching,” he said.
 
“We must keep investing in teachers,” Sir John wrote. “Too often, mathematics, physics and chemistry are taught by teachers without specialist qualifications, so the government must intensify the drive to recruit well-qualified teachers in these subjects. Those teachers who are already in schools need the chance to get out of the classroom to attend the Science Learning Centres and other professional development opportunities, so they can keep up with the breathtaking development of science and learn new ideas for practical work and the relation of science to the world outside.”
 
He cited the fact that twelve per cent of “the top-rated scientific research” comes out of the UK. “To keep that position, we need world-class science in our schools as well as in our universities, and the way to achieve that is to invest more and more in the one resource that will make all the difference – teachers.”
 

UK Statistics Authority concerned about “politically motivated” ONS comments

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The UK Statistics Authority has expressed concern to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) about media reports suggesting that its commentary on ‘special events’ affecting the recent quarterly GDP figures was “politically motivated … in support of the coalition Government”.
 
In a letter sent 16 August to ONS director general Stephen Penneck (pdf format, opens in new window), the UK Statistics Authority chair Sir Michael Scholar wrote, “There can be no justification for raising questions in this way about the impartiality and independence of the commentary provided by ONS … your motivation is purely to provide impartial, objective and honest statistics”. Sir Michael said he recognised that the ONS’s independence of government and any form of political control “is well understood by all your staff who have no reason or motivation to seek to please the Coalition or any other Government.”
 
The ‘special events’ referred to in the ONS commentaries included extreme winter weather, the exceptionally mild April and the royal wedding. Sir Michael stressed “the importance of frank and helpful commentary alongside official statistics, both to help users better understand the statistics and to demonstrate that, where they arise, inaccurate stories have no basis”.
 
But he suggested that “there may be benefit in further developing the commentary so that it is fully understood by all commentators that a discussion of special factors will routinely be published regardless of whether the effects of those factors is to increase or decrease GDP. It may also be that any quantified estimate of the net effect of the special factors should only be published as part of a full analysis, if at all.
 
“I would be grateful if you would consider whether a free-standing assessment of quarterly contextual factors could be usefully issued at the same time as each GDP release; and also review the prominence given to a discussion of these factors in the release and accompanying news conference.”
 
Construction figures
 
In the same letter, Sir Michael expressed “great concern about the publication and subsequent correction of miscalculated estimates of Output in Construction by ONS on 12 August 2011, estimates which have implications for UK GDP statistics”. The initial figures published by the ONS overstated output and caused a temporary surge in Sterling’s exchange value.
 
The UK Statistics Authority has asked the ONS to explain how this error came about, and announced that it will be undertaking its own independent inquiry.
 

Venue and date announced for RSS 2012 Conference

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The Royal Statistical Society’s annual international conference will return in September 2012 with its familiar mix of high-profile international plenary speakers, invited and contributed presentations, poster sessions, short courses and workshops, plus a busy social and networking programme.

Added to this mix will be an expanded programme of professional development tutorials and workshops which should appeal to a broad spectrum of professional statisticians, researchers and the wider user community.

The dates for the conference will be 3 to 6 September and the venue will be the Telford International Centre in Shropshire.

Suggestions and proposals are currently welcomed for topics for invited sessions, short courses, workshops and tutorial sessions – please contact Paul Gentry (RSS Meetings & Conferences Manager).

Abstract submission will open later this year and the conference website will updated as more information becomes available over the next few months.

Britain will benefit from moves to boost young people’s ability with numbers, says Royal Statistical Society

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The recommendation within the report of the Independent Mathematics Taskforce, chaired by Carol Vorderman, that all young people should continue to study mathematics after the age of 16 has been warmly welcomed by the Royal Statistical Society.
 
In its statement responding to the report, the Society said successive studies had deplored the fact that so many young people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland did no further mathematics once GCSE was completed. As a result they often took jobs or entered higher education without an adequate basis for dealing with the modern world.
 
The RSS endorsed the Taskforce proposal to give numbers work a bigger role in primary schools outside formal mathematics teaching, and supported the recommendation that those aged 16 plus do some form of compulsory mathematics.
 
Findings by the panel, chaired by Carol Vorderman, were in line with recent reports from the Advisory Committee on Mathematical Education (ACME) and the Nuffield Foundation. There is a growing consensus on the need for additional mathematics and statistics education.
 
The RSS said it hoped it could work with the education secretary Michael Gove to help turn the report’s recommendations into practicable plans for schools, sixth form and further education colleges in England and with education authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland.
 
Martin Dougherty, Executive Director of the RSS, said “Statistical know-how is critical in all areas of modern life, so we have to improve opportunities to learn to use stats in a wide range of subjects in the national curriculum, above and beyond the formal mathematics curriculum. We welcome the suggestions in the Taskforce report for teaching statistics at more technically challenging levels, as well as improving understanding of the concepts of risk and probability among all school children.”
 
Ms Vorderman said “Mathematics is a critically important subject. It is a language without which the entire global infrastructure is struck dumb. This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational but this does not mean making maths ‘harder’ for everyone; it means making the teaching better and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it.”
 
The Nuffield study showed the UK is lagging far behind other countries in post-16 mathematics education; most of the countries in the study also include some statistics content as part of the mathematics education.
 
The ACME report estimates that of those students entering Higher Education in any year there are around 330,000 students would benefit from studying some mathematics (including statistics) at a level beyond GCSE, but fewer than 125,000 will have done so.