Monthly Archives: March 2014

Why maths matters

This week has seen the launch of the National Numeracy Challenge, which aims to show millions of people that they can do something to improve their everyday maths skills and give them the help needed to get there.

According to research from Pro Bono Economics, low levels of adult numeracy skills are costing the British economy £20bn per year, or about 1.3 per cent of the UK’s GDP. Government figures show that over 8 million adults have the skills roughly equivalent to 7 to 9 year-olds or younger. Rather than improving, the situation may be getting worse – the OECD says that England is the only country in the developed world where adults aged 55 to 65 perform better than 16 to 24 year olds in numeracy.

National Numeracy and its partners, which include the WEA, Nationwide Building Society, TUC unionlearn and many others, are determined to help people improve their maths skills and address the UK’s numeracy deficit.

Being numerate goes beyond just ‘doing sums’ – it means having the confidence to use numbers and maths in everyday life. The WEA runs numeracy classes for thousands of people across England and Scotland and we know it can be a daunting prospect for our students. They say they want to help their children with homework, progress their careers, get a job or just understand their bills, but lack the confidence and skills to do it.

Making that leap into a class is a major achievement in itself. The WEA is fortunate as we can bring maths classes into communities rather than behind college walls and our student-centred teaching methods make it easier for students who lack confidence to get better at maths. But we know that there are still many people that are being held back by poor maths skills and we all need to do more to increase the numbers who are doing something about it.

This is why the National Numeracy Challenge is an important. By enabling people in the privacy of their own homes to honestly assess their level of maths, it is a first step in helping them recognise that there may be a problem with their numeracy skills. The Challenge assesses practical problems so it’s not off-putting for people beginning their journey to better skills. This makes it very accessible and we will be taking the Challenge to our students and members to encourage more people to try out their maths skills and supporting National Numeracy in its objective of lifting one million people out of the poor numeracy trap over the next five years.

Alongside the Challenge, a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Maths and Numeracy has also been launched. This will provide a forum for debate to ensure parliamentarians are well-informed and to share effective ways to resolve the numeracy deficit by learning lessons from our overseas competitors alongside the role of both employers and teachers in addressing the problem. Liz Truss MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare and Barry Sheerman MP spoke at the launch, with both emphasising the need for long term solutions to the lack of maths skills in the UK.

I was particularly struck by the importance of parents gaining confidence in maths so they can help their children. It reminded me of three students from Basildon who I interviewed last year, Tammy Spriggs, Lisa Harrington and Janine Ginno, who all took numeracy as well as other courses. They show what a difference improving their maths skills made to their own confidence and their children.

So please take the test here and try out your skills whatever you think your level is. You may be surprised by the results.