New initiative to improve adults’ maths skills

14 February 2013

Almost half of adults in England (49%) have entry-level maths skills – at best the level of maths you would be expected to have by age 11. To help more people improve their maths skills, a new initiative – Maths4us – starts today with over 20 national organisations coming together to take strategic action on adult maths.

From now until the end of March, the key partnership of national organisations will support a wide range of activities to raise awareness of the importance of maths as well as to tackle some of the challenges in this area. These include:

  • Developing and promoting maths apps for adults.
  • Training 8,000 Maths Champions to support other adults.
  • Piloting an online numeracy assessment tool.
  • Developing a series of MOOCs (massive open online courses).
  • Producing resources and training for parents, carers and early-years workers.
  • Improving the quality of teaching and learning.
  • Engaging and enthusing people about the power, enjoyment, and importance of maths.

Carol Taylor, NIACE Director for Development and Research, said:

“One of the seven recommendations from the NIACE- led Inquiry into Numeracy in 2011 was that adults should be able to learn maths in a way that’s more relevant to their everyday lives. The Government’s Review of English and Maths last year found that far too many adults struggle with maths and many of them find certain maths tasks – from budgeting, to getting the best deal – challenging. As such, a new approach is needed to help adults improve their maths skills. Maths is for all of us; this is why we’re taking action on adult maths.

One of the big problems is that many adults don’t think that maths is a part of their everyday lives. People see maths as something very intelligent people ‘do’, not an essential set of skills for work, family, health and throughout life. We want to engage people through showing how everyone uses maths every day of their lives, that it can be exciting and fun, and that it is not something to be scared of. Working with our wide-range of expert partners will enable us to get added value by using their links, networks and routes to people from all kinds of backgrounds to help them, their families and their friends become more confident and happier with maths.”

Online Centres Foundation (OCF), the organisation behind the national network of UK online centres, is one of the partners in the initiative. Chief Executive Helen Milner, said:

“UK online centres are experts at introducing maths by the back door. In order to get people interested in the online world, centres focus on individual interests, and maths comes in almost incidentally – for instance in doing online price comparisons, converting measurements for online recipes, or working out time differences for Skype calls. We’re delighted to be part of Maths4us, and making sure that back door is opened for even more people. We’re particularly looking forward to working with the other Maths4us partners to develop and pool maths resources.”

Another partner of this initiative is unionlearn. Their Union Development Manager, Judith Swift, said:

“Unionlearn are really excited to be a part of the Maths4us initiative. We understand the negative impact that a lack of confidence with numbers has on people’s lives. We do also know that many adults are better at maths than they think – we are dealing with numbers all the time and it’s when we hit a problem that confidence goes. We believe that this initiative can bring about a positive change in culture and enable thousands of adults and their families and communities to take more control of their lives through a ‘Can Do’ attitude to maths. We are aiming to equip our army of union learning reps with the tools and confidence to make a big difference.”

Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive of National Numeracy, said:

“National Numeracy is delighted to be an active participant in Maths4us, since our core purpose as a relatively new charity is to improve numeracy throughout the UK and create more positive attitudes to maths. Our primary involvement is through the National Numeracy Challenge which aims to reach 1 million adults over five years. This is against the backdrop of 17 million people of working age in England having the numeracy skills expected of children at primary school (BIS figures). Over 8 million of these have the skills expected of 7-9 year-olds or younger. The equivalent figures for literacy are 5 million and 2 million respectively. Working with a range of partners, we aim to reach out and persuade people that they can take steps to improve their maths.”

Frances Graham, Chief Executive of Workbase Training, said:

“Workplace Learning Advocates (WLAs) inspire people to learn at work by informing, encouraging and supporting skills development in non-unionised workplaces of all sizes. In line with this we are excited to be working on Maths4us to help see the profile of maths increased in workplaces and for Workplace Learning Advocates to encourage colleagues to undertake maths learning and qualifications.

WLAs and their employers know that better maths skills will help to boost economic performance and help staff to improve their confidence and career prospects. A flexible, easy-to-use approach is how WLAs work best in their workplaces and we are looking forward to working with partners to achieve these goals. See how WLAs are supporting Maths4us at”

Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology, said:

“The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) is the UK’s leading membership organisation in the Learning Technology field. We aim to improve practice, promote research and influence policy across sectors.

We support the Maths4us initiative by leading on creating an index of apps used for maths learning in practical contexts such as personal finance, travel or helping with homework. The apps index will bring together the expertise of teachers, researchers and learning technologists to give everyone easy access to the most useful maths apps for them.

Using apps via a mobile, desktop, or other internet-enabled device to improve your maths skills and using them in everyday life us can help improve numeracy for everyone.”


The proportion of adults in England with entry-level maths skills was calculated using the table below, found on p.37 of 2011 Skills for Life Survey: Appendix of Tables:




Supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Maths4us initiative is being led by NIACE and a number of key partner organisations across the public and private sector, including:

Association for Learning Technology (ALT); BBC Learning; Booktrust; Campaign for Learning; Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD); Confederation of British Industry (CBI); Horizon; Institute of Education (IoE); Institute for Learning (IfL); Jisc/Jisc Advance; Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS); Learning Unlimited; National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM); National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI); National Numeracy; National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC); Online Centres Foundation (OCF); The Open University; Transport for London (TfL); UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES); unionlearn; The University of Nottingham; and Workbase.