School (11 – 16)
If you’re between the ages of 11 and 16 and want to find out more about statistics and statistical jobs, this section is for you.
Find out about what statisticians do, why statisticians love their jobs and why statistics is so important. Learn how you can get involved with statistics at school and which subjects can help you prepare for a career in statistics. And if you’re really impressed, we’ll show the next steps on how to get a job as a statistician.
Why choose statistics?
Statistics is everywhere around us. It allows us to make important decisions in life and a great skill to have to help you win those arguments with friends, family and classmates.
What is statistics?
You may have listened to sports commentaries when the commentator says “and now for some statistics”. The word ‘statistics’ here refers to things such as how many times these teams have played in the past, what the results were, details of how many goals a particular player has scored and when, and so on.
Sometimes, as in football and basketball, the figures can be very detailed. This does not give a good idea of what statistics is about. It sounds boring, and often is. Statistics is not just collecting a lot of numbers – it is collecting numbers for a purpose.
Statistics changes numbers into information. Statistics is the art and science of deciding the appropriate data to collect, deciding how to collect it efficiently and then using it to answer questions, draw conclusions and identify solutions. Statistics is about making decisions when there is uncertainty. We must make decisions all the time in everyday life and as part of our jobs. Statistics helps us to make better decisions.
For example, statistical thinking is used in:
- measuring changes in the environment to see the effects of global warming
- measuring changes in population patterns to see what type of housing is needed and where
- analysing experiments on using fertilisers to increase growth of crops
- measuring the effectiveness of different medicines to find the best and to identify side effects
- calculating how likely it is that two people have the same DNA profile.
Using statistics at school
You should have already used statistics in your lessons already, particularly in mathematics.
- Collecting data: making a survey or questionnaire about what eye colour, height or favourite food from your classmates. You then may have to group this data into boys vs girls or age
- Calculating averages: working out the mean, mode and median
- Representing data: drawing pie charts, bar charts, line graphs, and frequency polygons
- Probability: working out the chances that you will pick a classmate who likes the same food as you.
Mathematics contains statistics, though the word ‘statistics’ is not always used. The section on data-handling is all about statistical techniques and their uses.
You will find that the statistical process of asking a question, getting appropriate data, analysing and representing the data and then drawing conclusions is very similar to the process of a scientific investigation. Science uses a lot of statistics in drawing conclusions. You will also find statistics used in different ways in geography, history, citizenship, psychology, economics, business studies and many other school subjects.
Statistics are everywhere
You will notice that statistics is used often in all your lessons, not just maths and science. Sometimes, you use it in sports or PE to work out your heart rate per minute or when drawing a graph for a group project about population rates in geography lessons. In England there is a separate GCSE in Statistics now available.
At home, you may be receiving an extra £5 a week and have worked out how many weeks it takes to save for that new games console. When out shopping, you may have worked out which of the several multi-pack, buy one-get two free offers was really the best value.
Whenever you see real data or ‘facts and figures’ in things like newspapers or magazines, ask yourself what they really tell you. If a newspaper article makes a claim based on some data, ask whether the commentary is a true reflection of the data. Sometimes you will find that the article is misleading. Sometimes it is deliberately misleading, often it is not – the writer might not be very good at statistics. Make a note of the ways that you find statistics being misused.
Learn to ask critical questions so that you are aware of both the strengths of good data and the weaknesses of poor data. Ask who collected the data and how – are they more likely to be telling me the truth or are they likely to be biased in some way? If the data has been collected properly, what does it actually tell me? Use the techniques that you already know to understand more about what the data is telling you.
Your next steps
If you’d like to work or use statistics after you finish school, your chances are better if you continue studying. There are opportunities for doing statistics for people who leave school at 16, but they are limited. If you choose that route, you might think of studying for the professional qualifications of the Royal Statistical Society, starting with the Ordinary Certificate which is a level between GCSE and A level.