New approach to adult numeracy crucial

18 March 2011

The headline recommendation of the NIACE-led Independent Inquiry into Numeracy – which published seven recommendations to Government on Tuesday, 22 February – is that the Government needs to adopt a new approach to numeracy that focuses on how adults use maths and numbers in everyday life.

Carol Taylor, Director of Operations at NIACE, said:

“We have a huge numeracy problem in this country. We see having poor numeracy skills – being bad at Maths – as a badge of honour. No one would dream of boasting that they couldn’t read, but many people stand on platforms, write in blogs, appear on radio and television TV, admit to friends and colleagues, proudly showcasing our inability to handle everyday maths.”

“This Inquiry into adult numeracy is a response to the urgency of the current situation. We have made a set of recommendations to help shape a new way forward for how we talk about numeracy and maths, how we can engage more adults in better numeracy learning, support them so they continue learning and assess them to chart their progress. These recommendations are not just about spending more money but spending the current budget in a way that works better for adults.”

“Numeracy needs to reflect our everyday lives, it’s essential that adults calculate their household budgets accurately, are sure about the risks they take with credit, the time they need on a journey and how they can manage their health. Improved knowledge and skills will help people gain more control over their lives and give them the confidence to help their children and grandchildren with their numeracy learning, this is an issue the country can not afford to ignore.”

The Seven Recommendations from the Independent Numeracy Inquiry

To improve adult numeracy, we need…

1. …to change the way we think about adult numeracy.

Adult numeracy should not be thought about solely in terms of the maths that is taught in school. We recommend the Government adopt a new approach to numeracy that focuses on how adults use it in everyday life and that is how it should be taught. Poor numeracy skills should not be seen as a badge of honour.

2. …a new measure of how well adults use numeracy.

We recommend a new way of measuring how well adults use numeracy everyday – for example how they manage bills, make decisions about credit and estimate time.

3. …more, different and better adult numeracy provision.

We recommend that numeracy provision should be available through a wider range of organisations – including workplaces and community groups and not only from education providers – to encourage more flexible numeracy learning through bite-sized and informal provision. This should include embedding numeracy with vocational, family and other learning.

4. …more numeracy teachers and a new group of people to support adult numeracy learning.

We recommend that as well as more adult numeracy teachers being trained we need more numeracy champions, including family support workers, learning reps and job centre staff, to signpost and support learners.

5. …to prioritise adults with the poorest numeracy skills.

Those with the poorest skills have barely been touched by the Skills for Life strategy. We recommend prioritising resources to help adults address their fear of numeracy and encourage them to improve their skills, by making what they learn relevant to their everyday lives.

6. …an ‘all-age’ strategic forum for key organisations and government to work together to improve adult numeracy learning.

We recommend that the Government bring together a range of organisations to research, develop and improve numeracy in line with this Inquiry’s recommendations, which will improve the numeracy learning of both children and adults.

7. …more in-depth research to ensure we know what works best for adult numeracy learners.

We recommend the Government and appropriate partners should continue to research and evaluate adult numeracy provision to chart progress on what works best for adults.

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), said:

“Helping adults with poor literacy and numeracy skills is a top priority for this Government and we are committed to offering fully funded literacy and numeracy courses for all those who left school without these basic skills. The Government is currently reviewing the quality of literacy and numeracy skills provision and examining how it equips individuals with the skills they need to get a job and play a full part in society.”

“We welcome the report from NIACE, and will draw on its findings to inform the Government’s review, alongside the findings of Ofsted and the expertise of a range of stakeholders, practitioners and academics.”