Workplace maths challenge aims to boost numeracy

Calculator National Numeracy wants employers to help staff improve their maths skills

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Employers are being asked to help workers boost their numeracy skills amid fears that poor maths is blighting Britain's economic performance.

The charity, National Numeracy, plans to reach a million adults over a five-year period, starting in the workplace.

Government figures show 17 million working age people in England have only primary school level maths skills.

Chris Humphries of National Numeracy said action was "urgently needed if the UK is not to sink further behind".

The campaigners say they want to raise the skills of all employees to at least the standard expected of 14-year-olds though some firms may decide that the equivalent of a good GCSE might be a better target.

'Radical move'

Mr Humphreys said: "All employers know what a massive problem we have with numeracy in this country.

"We are asking them and their employees to commit time and effort to doing something about it. This is a radical move... poor numeracy is a blight on an individual's life chances and we believe that employees will be as keen as their employers to improve their skills."

The charity was set up in March to combat the UK's low levels of numeracy and negative attitudes to maths. It highlighted government figures showing that more than eight million adults had only the skills expected of seven to nine-year-olds or younger.

From next spring employers will be asked to sign up to the National Numeracy Challenge. The charity is working on developing a cheap, online tool to give each employee a personal numeracy diagnosis.

A spokeswoman for National Numeracy said she expected the test to cost no more than a couple of pounds for each employee. She added that the bigger challenge would be to persuade some smaller firms to give their staff time off to take maths courses: "Some get it, some don't."

'Economic necessity'

She pointed out that a more numerate workforce was in the interests of both workers and bosses and should not be related to performance review.

The scheme has drawn support from both business organisations and unions with the Confederation of British Industry, Unionlearn, and Business in the Community all involved in its development.

Speaking at the launch of the scheme shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said it was crucial that employers signed up: "I know many businesses are already doing so, it is important that we all - employers, trade unions, government and individual adults take the responsibility to meet this challenge.

"Poor numeracy isn't just a moral imperative, it is an economic necessity."

Dr Susan Pember, an official with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, called the launch a timely initiative and said it was vital to get to adults in the workplace who often did not realise how poor their numeracy skills were.

National Numeracy plans ultimately to extend the scheme to improve maths standards among people not in employment or education.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    It's not just maths that is a problem. English and grammar are also at an all time low. If pupils paid more attention at school and there was some discipline at home then we might just get back to some sensible standards.
    Instead they don't make much effort and the result is that we read articles like the one above.
    Britain has to pull itself together - it's now time to actually do some WORK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    I think the core problem is that the education system hasn't kept pace with the changes brought by technology in this communication age.

    Simple arithmetic is no longer perceived relevant because tools exist now - much like working a hand loom is no longer an essential skill.

    But understanding the principles is more crucial than ever, and needs to be made relevant to an 8yo smart phone user.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    One of the problems is that 'Mathematics' is more than just arithmetic (indeed many mathematicians are hopless at arithmetic!) This confusion of numeracy and mathematics has been the source of many of the problems that we face. Mathematicians learn obsure branches of the subject and then go out and teach them, leaving their pupils in a state of shock. We need more applied practitioners to teach

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Math permeates through all subjects, yet in schools all subjects are taught as independent of it.

    If they increased the math content of syllabus for the sciences, geography, sport, etc... then maybe kids would realize they actually need it.

    They make too much effort to ensure these subjects are 'accessible' to those that struggle with maths giving the false impression its not necessary!

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Every time we have something on here about education you see the same comments about poor teaching and reduced funding. The real problem lies in the home, bad parenting. If teachers had to spend less time dealing with disciplinary issues caused by parents unwilling/unable to discipline children at home, there's be more time to teach, & if parents spent time teaching their children the basics . . .


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