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Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Lesson: Turning statistics into stories

Siddiqua, 12, Beth, 13, Iseabail, 13, Lauren, 13, Georgina, 12,
School Reporters at George Spencer School in Nottingham analyse their Survey data

Surveys can be a great way of producing news stories for journalists and broadcasters, and the School Report Survey should provide you with plenty of ideas for distinctive content.

Schools that have completed the School Report Survey will be sent their data to use in their reports for School Report News Day.

Information is sometimes released in advance to allow journalists to produce their stories - on the understanding that the stories are not published or broadcast until an agreed time or date

The publication of this data is embargoed until News Day - Thursday 24 March 2011 - when schools and the BBC will be free to report on the findings of the Survey. This means that it cannot be passed on to an audience outside the school or, for example, be published on the school's website before this date.

The objectives of this lesson plan are to analyse your school's data, spot the interesting figures and turn statistics into news stories.

This resource has been devised in consultation with the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education, who run the CensusAtSchool project, and students and teachers from the George Spencer School - and examples of the Nottingham School Reporters' findings are used throughout.


Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader

For this lesson, you will need:

  • The spreadsheet containing data relating to your school and the combined results for all schools in the UK. Schools that have taken part will be contacted about their results. If you want to remind yourself of the questions and topics covered by the Survey, have a look at the pdf:

  • Writing frame: Planning a news report based on School Report Survey data.
  • If you can gain access to a computer room with internet access, it will help the students look at the data on screen and enable them to begin researching their news stories.


1. Surveys and questions

Ask students:

  • Who completed the School Report Survey?
  • How many students do you think completed the survey at this school?
  • When you made your last news report, how many people did you interview?

Explain to students: Journalism is about finding out and reporting the truth. One way to do that is to ask questions. A survey enables journalists to ask a lot of people the same questions. Often, a collection of answers is a more accurate representation of how a group of people think, feel or act, than a handful of individual interviews.

As with individual interviews, a journalist's job is to select the most interesting answers.

2. What makes a number interesting?

Present students with these two headlines:

  • New breed of dog discovered with four legs
  • New breed of dog discovered with five legs

Ask students: Which makes a better news story?

Explain: The first headline is of interest to people who are enthusiastic about dogs, whereas the second headline is of interest to a much wider audience because it is unusual.

Explain to students that they are going to look at the difference between the data for your school and the data for all 24,052 students who completed to the Survey, to see if there is anything unusual which might lead to a new story.

3. Introducing your data

Show students the top sheet of the spreadsheet and explain what each column means:

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader

Column C shows the answer options.

Column D gives the percentages of each answer for your school.

Column E gives the percentages of each answer for all the schools who took part in the BBC News School Report Survey 2011.

Column F shows the counts for each answer for your school.

Column G shows the counts of each answer for all the schools who took part in the BBC News School Report Survey 2011.

4. 10% or more difference

Ask students to compare columns D and E and to highlight the rows of figures where there is a difference of 10 percentage points or more between the columns eg a result of 30% for your school (column D) as compared to 40% for all the schools (column E).

Tip: When modelling the activity, picking out the most obvious example from the spreadsheet and prompting students to look harder, dig deeper, can be motivating.

Here's an illustrative example to use from George Spencer School's data:

A screen grab of a spreadsheet containing data from the School Report Survey
School transport data highlighting a difference of more than 10% between results for George Spencer School and all other schools participating in the Survey.

Ask students to feed back their findings.

Now ask students to choose the SINGLE area of data of most interest.


5. Chose the most accurate

One of the key BBC News values is "truth and accuracy". You might like to remind yourselves of the other News values in School Report Lesson 1: Finding news. Show students these pairs of statements, each based on George Spencer's data in the table above. (You might like to produce similar examples for your own school's data.) Ask them to decide which of each pair is the MOST ACCURATE:


A. Less than 2% of children in the UK arrive at school by train.

B. Less than 2% of children, who took part in the School Report Survey, arrive at school by train.


A. Less than 1% of students at George Spencer School travel to school by bus.

B. Just 3 of the 410 students at George Spencer School, who answered the School Report questionnaire, travel to school by bus.

It quantifies what students know and is something tangible - they can see how many students answered and how they responded. It's not just an idea
Teacher Hayley Foale


A. 27% of schoolchildren across the UK, who took part in the School Report Survey, travel to school by car.

B. On average, 27% of schoolchildren in the UK travel to school by car.


A. Of the UK pupils who answered the School Report questionnaire, more than a third walk to school.

B. 3.55 in every 10 school pupils in the UK, who took part in the School Report Survey, walk to school.

Answers and explanations:

1B. It is important to give the context of the figures. Not every child in the UK completed the survey and likewise not every student at your school answered the questionnaire - and this needs to be reflected in your reporting.

2B. Percentages are less meaningful when the numbers of responses are small. In such cases, it might be clearer to use the numbers (counts).

3A. Beware of using the term "average". None of the percentages that you have been given are average. The term has specific mathematical meanings - mean, mode and median are all different types of averages - and your Maths department will be able to explain further

4A. Both statements are accurate; however the B statement may not make much sense to readers. What does .55 of a child look like? Also be careful with the use of the terms: fewer, greater, less than and more than. Fewer and greater refer to whole items/people etc. So in the example given, "greater than three in every 10 children" would be inaccurate.

6. Top line

With this learning about accuracy in mind, ask students to return to the spreadsheet and recall the single area of most interest.

Based on the data, ask them to create a "top line"; a sentence which expresses the most interesting findings in a succinct and accurate way. In other words, it is clear, concise and correct. (You might like to refer back to the three C's of journalism in School Report Lesson 3: Writing News.)

Here's the top line (in bold) preferred by students at George Spencer School to use as an example, followed by the context (in italics).

Twice the proportion of children at George Spencer School travel to school on foot, compared with the findings of a new survey.

Over 24,000 eleven to sixteen-year-olds across the UK were questioned by the BBC at more than 300 schools participating in their news-making project for young people - School Report. And our school is one of them.

We would never have picked up on the number of children walking to school as a news story. Without the comparison, we would not have thought it was unusual
Teacher Hayley Foale

The results show that just over a third of the schoolchildren, who took part in the survey, walk to school - whereas at this school it's 70%!

Students feedback their top lines. They will be asked to put these into context in activity 8. They also share their gut feelings about why their findings might be of interest.

As a group, decide which top lines to turn into news stories.

7. The five Ws

Ask students to recall the 5W's of journalism; the five key questions - six if you include how - which journalists seek to answer. (You might like to refer back to School Report Lesson 2: Gathering News.)

Now ask students: For each top line, which is the most pressing question to ask?

At George Spencer School, overwhelmingly, students said they wanted to know WHY: Why did 70% of their students walk to school when the whole survey showed it was a third of participating students?

Ask students to brainstorm the question WHY. Can they offer any explanations for the data? Any hunches? Who could ask to find out the answers?

8. Writing a script

After a discussion, students can begin to structure their thoughts using this writing frame, which helps them plan a news story in the form of a script.

Tip: Students might find it easier to write the introduction at the end.

Once completed, students can use the writing frame as a plan for a video report (using the third column for notes about camera shots etc), as a written report (using the column for notes about graphics etc), or as an audio reports (using it for notes about sound effects etc).

Teachers might like to use this example writing frame, written by Mohammed, 11, at George Spencer School, as an example.

9. Graphs and graphics

Adding a bar chart to the report, can be a useful illustration of the data. and here's how to do it:

First of all, highlight the data on the spreadsheet that you want to represent. An example screen grab is given below.

A screen grab of a spreadsheet containing data from the School Report Survey
Highlight these sections of the spreadsheet in order to create an illustrative bar chart

Then, click on Insert, Select Column and then the first graph in the 2-D Column.

When your graph appears, add a title by clicking on Layout, Chart Title, Above Chart. Then type in your title and click Enter.

To improve this graph, right click on the parts of the graph you would like to change and alter.


10. Taking the ideas further

Students present their top lines, with context, to an editor - which could also be a nominated student.

As a news team - with the final say from the editor - they decide which idea(s) they will see through to the News Day as reports published on the school website.

They allocate tasks accordingly to members of the group.


CensusAtSchool is a project for schools run by the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education, the organisation that are partnering with School Report to run the School Report Survey. [The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites]

More or Less is a Radio 4 programme devoted to the world of numbers and their use in the media and politics.

A video by Michael Blastland, former producer of BBC Radio 4's More or Less about using numbers in the news.

School Report Survey 2011: Q&A
21 Jan 11 |  School Report
School Report Survey: Introductory Lesson
03 Feb 11 |  Teachers' resources
Top tips on data visualisation
21 Mar 11 |  School Report

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