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 291.

    289 Jacqi F

    No it isn't. Try visiting a few schools, especially those with very young children, and you'll see. Your Ofsted inspector would have graded that lesson as inadequate. You might also try looking at the EYFS expectations and large parts of the KS1 and 2 maths national curriculum to see if your view that maths is taught in an abstract way is valid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    #1 #78

    Usual rose tinted rubbish! I did my A level maths in '99, my Mother had 0 Level, and I know for sure A level was harder! Just because the O level meant using a slide rule doesn't mean other things that replaced that rubbish don't count! My mother got an O level without doing Pythag! I had that mastered at 12! And I was not exceptional. But feed your superiority complex why don't ya!

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Arithmetic is taught in a very abstract way in the UK, if it were taught in a more concrete way, so children can understand the concept of what they are trying to learn, then it would make sense to them.

    An Ofsted Inspector that I know found children aged 3 at a nursery being 'taught' arithmetic soley using pencil and paper.

    No wonder children get switched off from maths by the time they are 7.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    74. HugeCanoe

    ' in lowering the difficulty of maths taught in schools to the lowest common denominator so no one feels left out, kids don't even know what the lowest common denominator is anymore.'

    KS2 Level 4 requirement: Pupils are able to order fractions by changing each to a common denominator.

    Level achieved by 85% of Y6 last year. Still why let facts get in the way of an opinion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    When I was teaching physics, during my PGCE in 1992, I did find myself wondering what Maths teachers did. One class (2nd set 4th yrs) got their calculators out to calculate how much work was done if you moved a force of 5N a distance of 1m.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Yes we do need better math for everyone.

    The only trouble for the government is, with more people improving their maths skills, more people will realise that most statistics from the government don’t add up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    So employers have got to teach maths now.

    Isn't this what schools are for? Perhaps if they weren't preoccupied with teaching religion, multiculturalism, how not to win at sports, english as a second language & sex education they could concentrate on the 3Rs.

  • Comment number 284.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    All the money that's spent on education yet numeracy among our kids is this poor!? Something doesn't 'add up'.....

    HAHAHAHAHAAHA thanks I'm here all week. Try the fish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    You seem to be missing the point. 17 million *working age people* have inadequate numeracy skills. That's everyone aged 16-65. People who in some cases left school 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Previous studies have shown that older people perform worse on average in literacy and numeracy than younger age groups. So simply going back to "the good old days" isn't the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    What those on here see as practise of the basics, pupils see as boring and thus a turn-off. How do you increase the mathematical abiity of pupils if all they do is repetitive arithmetic? All you do is re-inforce the idea that some are good at Maths and most aren't.
    Of course, that doesn't matter to commentators here. They've finished school long ago. Enjoyment has no place at school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    I passed O'Level maths in the 1960s. I have never had to use any of the things I learnt in the whole of my working life, apart from some basic arithmetic. If someone had asked me, even 6 months after leaving school, to do a quadratic equation, I wouldn't have been able to do it. You forget how. It doesn't mean you weren't taught how to do it or that your your teacher was rubbish!

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    "Maths" to Key stage 3 is rubbish. It's more about data collection and arithmetic. I had a go at my daughter's maths teacher in year 9 as I found her science teacher was teaching her maths necessary for science. (Not her fault it's the syllabus.) Crazy. We had to teach her how to manipulate algebraic equations at home.
    Faecal matter usually helps things grow. This kind doesn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.


    Ah point taken. Schools use non teaching cover staff but in a good school that doesn't affect classes much. In some schools more of this goes on if they can't get staff. It's supposedly 'temporary'. Hmm.

    I hate to say this but it is the 'rough' schools (hate to use the phrase)
    as they suffer more staff absence & have more unfilled posts especially in maths & science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Many self styled "creative's" pride themselves on being hopeless with maths and technology.

    These mathematical illiterates are nearly always left leaning liberals who are convinced that they have superior intellectual insight in to how to solve the world's problems.

    They are so deluded that they think they know how to fix the economy while being incapable of calculating a percentage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    @ 59.

    "Maths? We have calculators for that sort of thing now."

    We have calculators for the small branch of maths known as 'arithmetic'.

    A calculator can't tell you, for example, how thick a driveshaft of a given material needs to be to cope with a given torque, unless you understand the underlying maths and therefore know which buttons to press.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    263. Dazzler: 'my school has been judged good-outstanding by Ofsted ... the teachers never correct homework errors.. my kids know they've got questions wrong but are not told .. how to improve.'

    Ofsted criteria for outstanding: 'Consistently high quality marking and constructive feedback from teachers ensure that pupils make rapid gains.'

    Looks like you got away with that one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    It's ironic that in lowering the difficulty of maths taught in schools to the lowest common denominator so no one feels left out, kids don't even know what the lowest common denominator is anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    As has been said already, there is potentially quite a big difference between maths and numeracy. What is actually meant in this article, maths or numeracy?

    Practice makes perfect, and a good way to learn good numeracy skills is scoring a few games of darts each day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    @81 bob

    What do you mean by "less able" and "the basics"? Both of those terms would be arbitrary points selected a posteriori. The prejudice inherent in similar comments to your own is, sadly, deeply a priori in nature. When words like ability are used they dismiss words like potential. I find the type of education system you would prescribe extremely lazy.


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