Education & Family

Maths skills of many adults 'worse than a nine-year-old'

Image caption The government is urging adults to take up free classes

A quarter of adults in some parts of England have maths skills below those of nine-year-olds, a study has revealed.

The problem is worst in London, the North East, the North West and the East Midlands.

Literacy skills are also weak in some areas. In London and the North East, 17% of adults can read and write only as well as an 11-year-old.

The government says progress has been made but more is needed.

It commissioned the survey of 16 to 65-year-olds across England, called Skills for life and is calling on adults to take up free classes.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: "Good English and maths are vital for getting a job and playing a full part in society. We have doubled the funding for adult English and maths because they are so important.

"I would urge anyone who is struggling to take advantage of the provision that is on offer which now includes maths and English GCSEs for adults who missed out the first time round."

The survey was carried out between May 2010 and February 2011 and the main findings were published last year, but the government is now releasing the regional breakdown.

'Seriously disadvantaged'

The full report says there was an improvement in adult literacy between 2003 and 2011, but that at a national level 24% (8.1 million people) lack basic numeracy skills, while 15% (5.1 million people) do not have basic literacy skills.

The latest data shows that in the north-east of England, 31% of adults have maths skills equivalent to seven- to nine-year-olds. In London and the East Midlands , 25% of adults have that level of numeracy, while in the North West the proportion is 24%.

Literacy levels are generally a bit better, with the government highlighting areas where adult skills are lower than those of nine- to 11-year-olds.

In London and the North East, 17% of adults are in that group. In the North West, the figure is 14% and in Yorkshire and Humber it is 12%.

Carol Taylor, from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), said: "There has been a huge effort from teachers, managers, volunteers and learners over the past 10 years leading to a significant improvement in the literacy skills of the country, albeit for those at a higher level.

"Those with the poorest skills have been the least well served. One in six of the adult population has some difficulty with aspects of reading and writing and one in four struggles with maths.

"This means they are seriously disadvantaged - in work, in health and in their role as parents."

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