Poor numeracy skills need addressing widely

10 August 2011

Responding to the report, A world-class mathematics education for all our young people, Sue Southwood, NIACE’s lead on numeracy, said:

“Carol Vorderman is right, poor levels of numeracy do risk having a ‘catastrophic’ effect on the economy. Research shows that adults with strong numeracy skills have better health, stronger and more varied employment prospects, higher earnings, easier access to training opportunities and to higher level qualifications, and better access to good housing. Yet at least a fifth of adults in England do not have the basic numeracy skills needed for everyday life.”

“Therefore there is an urgent need to address poor numeracy skills – not just in schools but for the whole population. Earlier this year, NIACE published Numeracy Counts, the final report of an independent Inquiry on Numeracy. The report recommends changing the way we look at numeracy learning and suggests a focus on ‘real-life’ activities such as managing bills and making everyday financial decisions. There should be more and better opportunities for adults, including young adults, to improve their numeracy and it will be a fools’ errand to offer our young people ‘more of the same’ until the age of 18. For young people leaving school with low levels of numeracy, maths should be taught informally, in different contexts and with a focus on its relevance to everyday life. It shouldn’t be treated like just another subject on a timetable.”

“There is an even greater urgency to overcome the fear of maths that many adults have and to challenge the culture that ‘it’s ok to be bad at maths’ that is so often worn as a badge of honour. This is particularly important for parents as they are their children’s first and most important educators; it is vital that negative attitudes about maths are not passed down through families. Working with young parents and family learning groups can make a long-term difference so let’s not confine our thinking of maths just to schools.”

A world-class mathematics education for all our young people was produced by a ‘maths task force’ led by Carol Vorderman, which was commissioned by the Conservative Party when it was in opposition in 2009.