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 351.

    Just noticed this "The scheme has drawn support from both business organisations and unions" Shocking! The last time I can remember them both agreeing on somthing was on how the minimum wage would cost jobs and trash the economy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    //Steven McHarg
    Like poor literacy though, it's actually an issue caused by social only becoming a noticeable problem now as numeracy becomes more essential to life.//

    I beg to differ. People who were at school during the war and the 50's are generally better at spelling and figures than those brought up in more prosperous times decades later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Radical idea - how about maths/literacy tests for MPs as part of their local selection process? Set a minimum standard below which MPs are not permitted to stand for parliament. You know, those sums which include percentages, addings up and, oh, fiscal nonsense like predicting what wars, Olympics and railways cost. And comprehension tests using the rent claims documentation. eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    I went to what should have been the pattern for British secondary education, the old Northern Ireland pattern secondary modern. my G(rammar) stream got a grammar school equivalent education, the A(cademic) stream got a good comrehensive education and theT(echnical) stream for those less gifted or industrious got decent basic maths and English plus woodwork, metalwork etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    I am fortunate that my daughter is doing well in yr1 at primary school. This is recognised but rather than stretch her, they see it as an excuse to spend less time with her so others can catch up...because all that matters is that they all pass the tests at yr end. One pre school teacher told me that it wouldn't be fair on other kids at school if my daughter to was too far ahead. God help us

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    So many people, even in business, cover their deficiencies by laughing it off as unimportant ('I never was any good at maths' when they can't do simple arithmetic).
    And all too often they can't read/speak/write/spell their own language either - we hear the same laugh over spelling.

    What's funny?

    We're not talking about real maths, just COUNTING! Basic arithmetic - how hard is that???

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    While I quite like the idea that we as a nation are not "internationally competitive" because we all sit about in a fog of innumeracy, making basic and costly blunders willy nilly, I doubt it's the case.

    Actually we're not "competitive" because our workers have rights and our standard of living is high - both of which are actually good things. Long live uncompetitiveness!

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Teachers are told what to teach by the government. The government's initiatives change as quickly as the weather as they aim to curry favour with votors. //

    Ah, the old "don't blame me, mate" public sector attitude.

    Individual teachers might not always be to blame, but the failing educational establishment methods teachers and their leaders favour certainly are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    A few years ago I was in a takeaway, and queried why, if I had ordered 5 dishes, the price of each in pounds and pence ending in a zero, how could the bill be £12.87. The reply? "That's what the till said". After some swift mental arithmetic, I then paid the £13.40 bill. A week later, having asked for a dozen first class stamps at the newsagents I was told "We only sell them in books of four"

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    337. England is Ruined

    '... since OldLabour introduced Comprehensive Schools and closed down Grammar and Technical Schools.'

    1. The prize for closing the most grammar schools goes to one M.Thatcher when she was secretary of state for education

    2. How many people say 'Yes' to 'Would you like your child to go to a secondary modern?'

  • 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 340.


    Yeah right! It isn't hard to get good results in selective grammers when you get teachers to teach the best and brightest and can beat anyone who doesn't fall into line!
    Tory education dogma has been rejected by just about evey industrial nation, bar China for good reason. As I posted before all parties share responsibility for using it as a football since the 60's!

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    327.laughingdevil - "........I am thankful I did stats as part of my A-Level maths, it is a real eye-opener and a lot of people miss out on this. The media don't help though when they fail to report on things as basic as sample sizes in surveys"

    So true - but many Brits would argue with teacher if they did stats because they prefer their gut reactions to any actual, valid, evidence....

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    // ziggyboy
    The Chancellor should be sent into schools to teach basic arithmetic (not maths) or perhaps he needs to go back to school to ensure he can add up the cost of his train fare in future.//

    Ha ha ha... you'll be doing the 'cure global warming by stopping MPs speaking' one next, and maybe 'there is only one person who should be on the dole, and that's Osborne'.

    I blame Thatcher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Employers shoudn't have to do this!

    The education system that we pay for as taxpayers has failed our children since OldLabour introduced Comprehensive Schools and closed down Grammar and Technical Schools.

    The Labour Party is so full of dogma and ideaology it has destroyed tried and trusted education methods from the 1970's onwards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    "Workplace maths challenge aims to boost numeracy..."

    We should start with Government and Whitehall, it's clear most can't do simple maths, thus the frequent fiascos and the inability to understand basic economics, thus our recession.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.


    Full marks to your daughter's school! For me stats are relativly simple (at least the basics are) and should be taught much younger.
    I often have to dig for ages to find things such as sample size, and then you find it was say 12 people! And people base decisions, and worse the government make policy on this stuff!
    Hope the class goes well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Firstly arithmetic/numeracy isn't even mathematics, it's just plain common sense. Secondly please don't suggest learning by rote, which is no good if you need to know 7.5 times 13. How many of the older generation who learned by rote can do that one in about 2-3 seconds? probably a similar maybe smaller proportion than the younger generation. If you haven't mastered arithmetic by age 7, no hope!

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Full marks for you! My daughter's school has asked me to come and do some basic stats with the year 6's. One thing I plan to do is to bring in examples of statistics reported in the media and advertising, and show them how to think through whether they are believable (e.g. was sample size reported?). A great way to show how an understanding of stats is useful in everyday life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    321.Gideon The Fare Dodger

    He would probably mess up folding towels.


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