Education & Family

Workplace maths challenge aims to boost numeracy

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National Numeracy wants employers to help staff improve their maths skills

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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