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 271.

    @267.Polly8122, I didnt make that up its just an observation I've made that teachers tend to be expected to cover more subjects than they used to. Maybe its the LEA where my kids go to school, but do those stats also include temporary teachers who move from school to school?

    As for the respect, again just an observation from when I was at school and the stories I hear from my kids now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    I thought that decimalisation and metrication were supposed to make it all so much easier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Amazing, innit?
    In the US there's talk of scrapping algebra from the curriculum: -

    "...two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    Funny, my daughter and her friend brought up the subject of their new school this weekend saying how they felt they have too many subjects but not enough time on them.

    So although they may be learning a wider spectrum of subjects, they may not be learning them in enough depth or detail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.


    I was taught in the 70s and my experience of 'respect' was mixed. As a teacher today 99% of kids are respectful in my current (good) school, 90 in my last (rough) school.

    Your comments about teacher specialism today is simply wrong - did you make it up? Why do you think that?

    Gov stats 94.8% of high school teachers are qualified in their subjects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Another fact - the National Numeracy group are affiliated with Pearson, who own the EDEXCEL exam board. Does anyone truly think that they are independent upon this matter?
    This is a politically motivated campaign where by EDEXCEL are the examiners for Mathematics when it is a single exam board per subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Seems a lot of you are out of touch...or are you telling this expert he's wrong?

    =>Trouble is, egg-spurts can very often be wrong - they're good at the existing body of knowledge, they ain't ideas people. The revolutionary is always closer to the jail than the professor's chair.

    Rocket science, innit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    What are they going to do - ban Spreadsheets?

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    @160 there's definitely some truth to that but whilst my school has been judged good-outstanding by Ofsted, I can tell you that the teachers never correct homework errors. Thus my kids know they've got questions wrong but are not told why or how to improve. I've been through corrections countless times but don't think the responsibility lies 100% with me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    @257.Brambo, I was a child of the 70's and yes school was better, in the main pupils had respect for teachers, and teachers taught pupils, each one operating in a specist field, modern schools generally have a mishmash of utility teachers who have a basic grounding in several subjects without being good exceptional at any of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    According to this site input:
    Kids shouldn't be taught:-
    history - because it is imperialistic
    RE - because it is fable;
    maths - because we have calculators;
    english - because computers auto-correct;
    governance - because it is for toffs(!)
    PE - because of competitiveness
    science - because it is elitist

    So what do we teach 'em?

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    To all those who want rote learning, the National Numeracy group mentioned above state: He adds that the proposals include too much dependence on rote learning and not enough emphasis on problem-solving and using maths in real-life contexts.
    Seems a lot of you are out of touch...or are you telling this expert he's wrong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    This is not a new thing; the standard of numeracy started to slide in the '60s, and then accelerated in the '70s. What caused it is open to speculation but, weaker teaching techniques and more students rights has to be a factor.
    If all electric tills were silent would we have to close the shops?

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Why are you all falling for this red herring about the cause of economic failure being "poor maths skills", rather than the self-evident reason being that government is far too big and far too burdensome on the private sector? If you want economic performance, then get government's boot off the neck of the private sector!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    I do believe that many on here are of the same opinion: school was better in my day...
    Really? When were you born? 70s? 80s?
    When many pupils left school without a single qualification at 15. At a time when there were many manual labour types methods of employment that only exist now in China, Brazil and India, etc.
    When teachers could verbally bully pupils or physically harm them...

  • Comment number 256.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    @234. Ginger Ferrit
    He maybe misinformed but there is NO meaningful 'competition' between teachers. There is NO penalty for failure. You can't get into 'the profession' if you are not a teacher as schools will always employ even a failed teacher BEFORE they employ any outsider - even in science, maths and ICT. I can prove that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Nevermind the workers maths not adding up, what about the Directors of big corporations.....

    .....industry cost up 5% prices up 10%......industry costs down 5% prices down 1%......

    .....or so the energy industry seems to think......

  • 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 252.

    The clearly proves that constant government claims that educational standards are improving are a pack of lies. Unless schools are forced to reintroduce rigorous teaching methods, supported by proper discipline, and raise the bar for passing exams, things will only get worse. And formerly 'backward' nations will laugh at our ineptitude while they overtake our economy.


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