Maths to 18: Data must be integral to new proposals for maths education in England

In a speech on 17 April, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his vision for changes to the education system in England, in support of an ambition that all students study maths in some form to 18. The prime minister also tasked a new expert group with identifying the kind of ‘relevant’ mathematics students need.

Like so many announcements of this type, the core message seemed to be focused on the importance of numeracy, with the sole reference to data limited to ‘data skills allow[ing] you to analyse sales and calculate discounts’. But at the RSS, we would argue that it is the understanding of data and the arguments made from data that are crucial to the mathematical experience of our young learners. No matter what their futures hold, they will bump into, brush up against and potentially be bamboozled by a steady torrent of data, charts, averages and inferences. It is fundamental to their ability to understand and navigate the modern world that they can critically evaluate and interpret information presented in this way. We trust that the expert group, and any future curriculum work, will reflect this reality.

Reports produced by the Royal Statistical Society (A world full of data and The future of statistics in our schools and colleges) have argued that the study of data is an increasingly important part of the mathematical curriculum and, while opportunities to explore data exist across a plethora of school subjects, the maths curriculum has an important role given maths teachers have experience with the pedagogy of quantitative skills. Further recommendations have argued for the treatment of statistics as a problem-solving discipline, focused on a cyclic approach involving asking questions, creating models using data, and communicating clearly and effectively. Realistic data and real-world questions lay at the heart of this approach.

At the RSS, we are working on our own recommendations for statistics curriculums and plan to put out further information in this area in the coming months, including requests for feedback and opinion from our membership.

RSS Education Policy Advisory Group, chaired by Dr Sophie Carr

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