A radical overhaul of statistics teaching and better awareness among policymakers is needed to capitalise on the increasing economic importance of data-driven technologies, according to a report commissioned by The Royal Statistical Society and The Actuarial Profession.
The report, written by education specialist, Roger Porkess, centres on teaching methods mostly in English schools and colleges, and aims to provide an evidence base for the development of statistics provision.
The findings reveal that statistics teaching is often restricted to the mathematics part of the curriculum, with little co-ordination with other subjects where it is highly relevant.
In addition, its importance as a practical subject is not recognised in the formal assessment system for mathematics at any level, and at almost all levels students fail to engage in the full range of activities involved in using statistics to solve problems.
The report concludes that all students should be equipped with a working knowledge of basic statistics, including the necessary associated mathematical competence, and an appreciation of how it impacts on their daily lives.
"From working out the best deals in the supermarket to understanding trends and probabilities that affect decisions in business and politics, people's ability to interpret data and their sources has never been more important," said Jane Curtis, president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.
"A good grounding in the application and use of statistics in schools is essential to everyday life and future education. That is why the Actuarial Profession is delighted to be sponsoring this timely and relevant report."
Professor Valerie Isham, Royal Statistical Society president, added, "The results of the research carried out by Roger Porkess highlight the issues and problems which hamper the relevant provision of sound statistical knowledge,"
"They clearly support the argument that statistics cannot be ignored in either mathematics, or in a wide range of other taught subjects where problem definition, data collection, analysis and interpretation skills are essential to strengthen subject-specific knowledge.
"The recommendations flowing from this research are highly relevant not only for education policy development, but for policy development in other areas such as the labour market, industry and science. The Society will strongly pursue the recommendations and promote their relevance to all policy makers to ensure statistics is recognised as an essential discipline in all facets of the education landscape."
Key report recommendations:
Policymakers need to appreciate that the need for statistics is not going to go away; instead it will increase as ever more data become available. They need to acknowledge the central role that statistics plays in the current and future economy, and its importance for decision-making.
The new National Curriculum should ensure not only that students meet a suitable statistics curriculum at all ages up to 16 but also that it prepares them for a future in which many of them will be using statistics in a wide variety of contexts throughout the rest of their lives
New courses for post-16 students will require careful design. Their statistics content must be up-to-date and relevant to the future lives of the target students, whether in higher education or employment.
To ensure that sufficient account is taken of the importance of statistics, and of its special requirements, it should be represented separately from mathematics, but alongside it, when policy decisions are being made.
The assessment techniques used should ensure that, at every level, students carry out work covering all the processes required to use statistics to solve problems and make decisions.
The statistics content within mathematics, up to GCSE, should include some topics that are either not currently covered or are only treated lightly.