Year 8 students work with Cambridge researchers to help their peers learn about the census.

I find this information interesting because it shows a clear link between history and data, and how it affects people’s lives

Lewys, Year 8 student

Researchers from Cambridge’s Department of Geography and Year 8 students in Wales have worked together to produce a series of learning resources based on census data, showing how the country has changed over time.

The materials, including worksheets and a series of podcasts, are freely available for teachers to incorporate into their lessons.

Year 8 students from Radyr Comprehensive School and Pontarddulais Comprehensive School in Cardiff worked with Dr Alice Reid and colleagues from Cambridge, Leicester and Edinburgh Universities, to co-produce a learning resource about exploring the census in the past and present. They explored the Populations Past and Data Shine websites to discover facts about their local area and compared them with other parts of England and Wales.

After exploring the websites, the students drew up a set of interview questions to ask experts on historical and recent censuses, including the former National Statistician, Dame Jil Matheson. These interviews were recorded as podcasts.

The collaboration is part of the ‘Engaging the Public in Census 2021 project’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation. This project teaches students about the relevance of the census and provides insight into being a data-driven social scientist.

“The students were really responsive and thoughtful,” said Reid. “We had originally thought they would be most interested in their local areas, and while some of them were, they all seemed fascinated by the comparative aspects, both over time and between places, and they easily grasped the idea of letting the patterns in the data guide them to interesting questions which we could then explore with them.”

Students were particularly interested in what life was like for children their age in other eras. Today young people have to stay in full-time education until they are 18, but in the middle of the nineteenth century, school was not compulsory. The first Education Act in 1870 established local school boards which could build and manage schools, and the 1880 Education Act made school compulsory between the ages of 5 and 10 years. However, the continued need to pay fees until 1891 meant that not all children could afford to attend school. Children not at school may have been earning money or doing housework at home.

Imogen, one of the students who took part, said, “I find it interesting how children aren't allowed to work the same jobs now as kids did in 1861 and 1911. Did the government think that it was ok to let children work?”

Lewys, another student, said: “I find this information interesting because it shows a clear link between history and data, and how it affects people’s lives.”

One of the teachers involved in the project said: “An important part of the new curriculum in Wales is to embed the history of the local area into our study. It also combines History, Geography and RE as an all-around humanities subject. This project was the perfect combination of Geography and History and we will definitely be building the data into our curriculum in the future.”

“We were keen to work with Key Stage 3 students on this project in order to demonstrate the power and relevance of the social sciences,” said Reid. “The process of creating the material in collaboration with students inspired us to interrogate and explore our data in different ways which we are planning to build into our research programme.”

“I think it was really important to work with students on the project to gain insight into what they found most interesting about the census and to develop learning resources that were student-centred and responded to their needs and interests,” said Sophy Arulanantham from the Department of Geography. “This will help inform our work with schools and the development of further resources in future.”

Initial findings from the 2021 Census, which took place in March, are expected in March 2022, with a final release due in March 2023.

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