Education & Family

Pride in poor maths culture 'must be tackled'

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Image caption It is estimated that about half of working age population has low numeracy skills

Being bad at maths must no longer be seen as a "badge of honour" if poor numeracy skills among England's adults are to be tackled, campaigners say.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education is calling for a cultural shift in the nation's attitude to maths and a change in its teaching.

It also says adult maths skills campaigns have done little for those with the lowest ability.

The government said tackling poor basic skills was a top priority.

Research has shown that those with poor maths skills are far more likely to be out of work, or to be stuck in low-paid jobs.

Carol Taylor, director of operations at NIACE, said the UK had a "huge numeracy problem" but many people saw being bad at maths as a "badge of honour".

She said the problem was, in part, a cultural one: "No-one would dream of boasting that they couldn't read, but many people stand on platforms, write in blogs, appear on radio and television, admit to friends and colleagues, proudly showcasing our inability to handle everyday maths."

NIACE's report into the issue is due to be published later on Tuesday.

Last year a committee of MPs found that large numbers of England's adult working population remained functionally illiterate or innumerate - despite the government's £9bn Skills for Life programme.

The committee said there had been far less progress in tackling numeracy, compared with improving literacy among adults.

And the number of people with very poor numeracy skills who have participated in adult numeracy courses was very small, it added.

Author Dame Mary Marsh writes in the NIACE report's introduction: "As a country we have long recognised that we have a problem with numbers.

"Yet no other country seems to take so much pride in our difficulties. We say, 'I'm useless at maths,' cheerfully, and with a sense of finality.

"Poor numeracy skills have a devastating effect on many people's lives."

People who reach adulthood with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed, far less likely to receive work-related training, get a promotion or receive a wage increase, the report said.

Dame Mary said that the Skills for Life strategy, to address poor numeracy had "pumped billions of pounds" into raising literacy and numeracy standards.

But this had only had a "limited effect on numeracy", she added.

'Cultural shift'

A study for the National Audit Office in 2008 found that just one in 10 adults with numeracy skills lower than an 11-year-old had taken part in a numeracy course.

The NIACE report calls for "a cultural shift" in the nation's attitude to numeracy.

"We urge the government to bring the pleasure of numeracy and numbers to the population in the way that reading and books has become such a focus since the first National Year of Reading," Dame Mary added.

The report also calls for adults to be taught using real life activities, for more adult numeracy teachers and support workers, and for help to be targeted at adults with the poorest numeracy skills.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "We are committed to offering fully funded literacy and numeracy courses for all those who left school without these basic skills.

"The government is currently reviewing the quality of literacy and numeracy skills provision and examining how it equips individuals with the skills they need to get a job and play a full part in society."

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