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 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 250.

    Education in general should be a life-long persuit. Attention to Maths is an excellent move, the Key Skills Functional Maths might be more useful for people who are also at work.This needs an insightful employer to make it happen.
    Teaching must use a method appropriate to learning style, and take issues into account such as factors as missed concepts,dyscalculia and anxiety.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Prodded, poked, pushed & pulled. This is all we see from our vile Business people masquerading as vile Politicians and its getting worse

    All this is a smokescreen to make it look like our vile Politicians are doing something. Our children are being forcefully groomed in the dreadful education system with pressure from a young age - their childhoods robbed by the sickening Politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Interesting to see my comment on cooperation being marked down, although this is quite normal. Remember, though, that in a truly competitive society, we are all losers, apart from the one who sits in solitary (and lonely) splendour. Is this really what we want for our children? If so, remember that we will all be losers to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Gi us a KAL KEW L8 TOR and I can do mi mafs init!

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    English is split into two qualifications - English Langiage and English Literature. They each address different aspects of English. Maths should be the same. There should be a Numeracy qualification, focussing on basic number skills needed for life, and a Maths qualification covering the more advanced topics such as Trigonometry, Algebra etc. The 1st s/be mandatory and the 2nd optional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    You can blame poor maths for some of British industries woes but a big part of the problem is poor managers who are the people making decisions at the end of the day. I have worked for some absolute shockers yet they seem to progress (because they are not a minority) and this country is relying too heavily on spin and that is what doesn't add up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    233. Sam
    Many parents do not take responsibility for their children.

    My daughter produces one paragraph on a so called essay on the Battle of Stamford Bridge, as a parent I told her that one paragraph would not be sufficient and she would get a telling off from her teacher. She refused to alter the content and got an A+. It was then, I asked the school to get on with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Actually modern life is the reason most people do not have maths 'skills'. We do not need them all the time. Before calculators and shop tills working out change,familiarity of daily use,made people good with numbers. I worked with Someone who was at the 'thickest' end of the spectrum, yet he was faster than anyone at betting odds, darts scoring etc. no calculator. Useage is what counts. We don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.


    "When did you last see a child under 8 spending its pocket money at your local shop? adults and plastic have taken over, and the adults can't do the sums without a pc."

    Speak for yourself!

    "Ban calculators for under 14s, insist children learn to count in the nursery and bring back 10 a day mental arithmetic."

    More importantly ban smartphones from school (for pupils).

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    232.Raymond Hopkins
    - it would be a fallacy to assume that everyone of my generation left school fully numerate and literate.
    You can speak for me too, albeit I'm the 70's. In my school, progressing down capability, 3 classes, X, Y, Z sat O-levels and CSE's. 7 classes, A-G sat no qualifications and latterly stopped turning up.
    Thankfully, for those willing to achieve, my school had streaming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    It may be true that teachers are competing more than ever, which would be a pity, as teaching needs to be cooperative if it is to be effective. Apologies for the foul language. You know, the C word. It even has more than four letters, which seems to make it grossly unsuitable for children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    "13200 hours of their life, just what are the schools doing to fill all that time."

    ... mostly crowd control, but the rights of the unruly pupil not to be excluded outway the rights of the well behaved child to learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    172 Gideon The Fare Dodger
    If employers want better standards of Maths, why can't they pay for it ?

    It has been paid for once, it’s called School.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    @216. Brambo
    Yup, O level 20 years ago was much harder... :) :)
    Just winding you up some more. Unless you assume that (a) the intelligence of the last few generations of kids has grown substantially, or the teaching techniques have improved substantially then it is certain that the standards have fallen substantially. I would suggest there is evidence teaching standards HAVE FALLEN

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    I work in a "mathsy" job and the level of maths around me is astonishingly poor, to the point where I had to give lessons on fractions and %s.

    However I think the problem is that my colleagues are out of practice and have a psychological block; they all have a decent GCSE grade so must have been able to do "work place maths" once.

    They just need some help so this sounds like a good idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Maths is built-in. If you can cross a busy road safely, you have it; that's what I told the kids and adults I taught. I modelled it and often heard, "Do we really do all that, crossing a road?"

    The role of educators, is to get stuff from inside and make it work outside, a process of tuning that picks up new stuff along the way.

    The goal is the desire and ability to self-educate.

    Lost it - Drat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    @ 210.Andy
    You're obviously making things up or you're seriously mis-informed.

    Teachers are competing more than ever, as their subjects are listed in league tables, which reflects directly upon their abilities. Difference is that they are competing to get their pupils the best grades through exam practice, not subject knowledge. This is what has contributed towards the decline in standards.

  • Comment number 233.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Re 194, the bloke. One reason why those educated pre 1960 seem to be better at maths may be because we have had more years of practice. I can only speak for myself, of course, but it would be a fallacy to assume that everyone of my generation left school fully numerate and literate. Comprehensive schools would have helped many more to achieve their potential.


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