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Improving Statistical Literacy
in School and Society:
The UK Experience
Peter Holmes
RSS Centre for Statistical
Education, Nottingham, England
40 years in UK Schools
 Initially for age 16 to 18 academic
 Later for all ages 7 to 18 and all abilities
The Initial Introduction
Part of a specialist mathematics course
 An alternative to theoretical mechanics
 Suitable for students of biology,
geography & economics
 Content classical mathematical
statistics - probability, distributions,
hypothesis testing, correlation &
Two Trends
Disappointment with the course for 16 18 year olds
 Rise of modern mathematics in
secondary schools
Emphasised mathematics rather than
 Did not develop practical skills
 Was not as much use to other subject
areas as hoped
Into the Main School
Education for everyone (Half our
 Emphasis on numeracy - using number
in practice
 Simple probability and statistical
representation in secondary schools
 Collecting and interpreting data in
primary schools
Schools Council Project on
Statistical Education
RSS initiative
 6 year programme costing then £250k
(say 1.6 million Euros today)
 What is statistics? Why teach it? Who
and how teach it?
 Develop teaching materials
What is Statistics?
What statisticians do!!
 Statistics is a practical subject devoted
to obtaining and processing data with a
view to making statements which often
extend beyond the data. These
statements are called inferences.
Why Teach Statistics to All?
Statistics is an integral part of our
 Statistical thinking is an essential part of
 Exposure to real data can aid personal
development and decision making
 Statistical ideas are widely used at work
after school
 Early exposure can give sound intuition,
later formalised
Who and how? - Two
Distracting Reasons
Statistics is an essential part of present
day mathematics
 Statistics is useful to many other parts
of the school curriculum
Two Global Aims Pupils should become aware of and appreciate
The role of statistics in society - the
many and various fields in which
statistical ideas are used
 The nature of statistical thinking - the
power and limitations of statistical
Mathematics Counts - The
Cockcroft report
Government enquiry into teaching of
mathematics (early 1980’s)
 Influential in later developments
 Evidence given by RSS
 Major references to statistics especially §§775 & 781
Statistics is not just a set of techniques,
it is an attitude of mind in approaching
data. In particular it acknowledges the
fact of uncertainty and variability in data
collection. It enables people to make
decisions in the face of this uncertainty.
Statistical numeracy requires a feel for
numbers, an appreciation of levels of
accuracy, the making of sensible
estimates, a common sense approach
to data in supporting an argument, the
awareness of the variety of
interpretation of figures and a judicious
understanding of widely used concepts
such as mean and percentages. All
these are part of everyday living.
The First National Curriculum
in Mathematics
Mid ‘80s
 For all ages 5 to 16
 Reflected Cockcroft
 About 25% on data handling, little
 Flawed by assessment
Current Proposals for the
National Curriculum
RSS involvement
 Slightly less statistics
 More practical and investigational in
 Based an investigational cycle
The Cycle
Specify the
Interpret &
Process &
Content linked to the Cycle
Pupils should be taught to carry out
every aspect of the Handling Data
 Communicate mathematically using
diagrams linked to related explanatory
 Make decisions about problem solving
strategies to use in their statistical work
Links to Use in Society
Through problems and investigations
gain insight into how statistics are used
in real life to make informed decisions
 Pupils should be introduced to important
uses of statistics in society
 Interpret statistics from society,
including index numbers (General Index
of Retail Prices); time series (population
growth) and survey data (National
RSS Outreach to General
 Response to Government Consultation
 Public lectures and meetings
 Media contacts
Associate School Programme
 Workshops for teachers
 Local Meetings
 Representation on Working Parties and
Development Groups
 Support for the RSS Centre for
Statistical Education
Response to Government
New Centres for teaching and learning
 Institute for learning and teaching
 Environment and Pollution
 Official Statistics
Public Lectures and Meetings
The Beveridge lecture on social issues
 Unemployment measures
Media Contacts
There is a list of members who can be
called on by the Press and other media
for informed statistical comment on any
major issue of the day.
And the Work Continues