“Nation of maths dunces”

Nation of maths dunces: 17 million adults would fail tests set for primary schoolchildren

Seventeen million adults – nearly half the working population – have the maths skills of a child at primary school, a report revealed yesterday.

Their grasp of numbers is so poor that they struggle to work out deductions on their pay slips or calculate change.

The number who struggle with basic numeracy has grown by two million over the past decade, even though billions of pounds has been poured into schemes to improve standards.


How would you score in the numeracy test?

How would you score in the numeracy test?

The scale of poor numeracy far exceeds the equivalent figure for poor literacy, which is now five million.

The report, released by a new charity, National Numeracy, found that 49 per cent of working-age adults in England are so bad at maths that they have no more than the skills expected of a nine to 11-year-old and would struggle with graphs and charts.

About half of these adults – a quarter of the working population – have only the abilities expected of a seven to nine-year-old and might struggle to pay household bills.

Launching the report, National Numeracy said school-leavers who have failed to master basic maths are more likely to end up jobless, in prison or pregnant at a young age.

The charity said Britain’s low numeracy levels, which place us 17th in a global league of 30 nations, are partly due to decades of neglect of maths in schools. But it also blamed a prevalent attitude that it is a ‘badge of honour’ to be bad at the subject and to have a ‘can’t do it’ attitude.

Support: Countdown mathematician Rachel Riley is fronting a campaign for adults to brush up on their maths skills

Support: Countdown mathematician Rachel Riley is fronting a campaign for adults to brush up on their maths skills

Chris Humphries, chairman of National Numeracy and former chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), said:

‘Official Government figures quote that 17million people have maths capabilities, at best, of the age of an 11-year-old.

‘And actually half of that group’s capacity tends to operate down around the level of a nine-year-old.

‘That’s a scary figure, because it means that they often can’t understand deductions on their payslip.

‘They have problems with timetables, they are certainly going to have problems with tax and even with interpreting graphs and charts that are necessary for their jobs.

‘The truth is that numeracy has been hidden behind literacy.

‘We’ve made excellent progress in literacy. The investment in basic skills has demonstrated that good quality programmes, good quality teachers, proper PR and publicity and a real attention to drawing adults in can make a big improvement.’

Mr Humphries lamented that maths had been ‘downgraded’ in the UK, particularly from the 1970s onwards.

‘The history of attitudes and concerns about mathematics in the UK, and particularly in England, dates back 40 years,’ he said. ‘We’re quite realistic, we don’t expect to transform this particular issue overnight.’

He said there was no ‘straight answer’ to the question of why Britain had a poor attitude to maths, but included a ‘stronger focus that we have had in this country since the [Second World] War on the arts and humanities and social science’.

Mike Ellicock, chief executive of National Numeracy, said: ‘We want to challenge this “I can’t do maths” attitude that is prevalent in the UK.

‘It’s often a boast or a badge of honour, and that’s across the whole of the social spectrum.

‘A huge part of the message is breaking down this view that’s held in this country that maths is a “can do, can’t do” thing, that it’s genetic, “I can’t do it, my mum couldn’t do it” and that kind of thing.

‘There’s absolutely no evidence for that.’

A poll for the group found that 80 per cent of adults questioned would be embarrassed to say they could not read or write properly, yet only 56 per cent would be ashamed of admitting they were bad at maths.

It has been found that many adults lack the maths skills expected of a nine-year-old

It has been found that many adults lack the maths skills expected of a nine-year-old (Posed by model)

The new organisation, whose founding sponsors alongside Nationwide Building Society include the Rayne Foundation, Oxford University Press and John Lyon’s Charity, is the first dedicated solely to boosting numeracy skills. It is backed by Rachel Riley, the mathematician on Channel Four’s Countdown.

Endorsing the charity’s aims, BT chairman Sir Mike Rake said: ‘Poor numeracy is the hidden problem that blights the UK economy and ruins individuals’ chances in life.

‘It’s so often overshadowed by concerns about literacy, and yet there is evidence to suggest that numeracy may be an even clearer indicator of economic and personal success.’

(Article source: Daily Mail)

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Is Numeracy important?

What is the issue?

Low levels of numeracy are a long-term problem for the UK.

1. Numeracy skills have got worse, not better

Proportion of working age adults in England with skills levels equivalent to GCSE “C” grade or above

2. High numeracy is connected to better…

3. The UK risks becoming less competitive internationally

The scale and cost of the issue

The causal chain of poor numeracy

In the UK, socio-economic background influences a child’s achievement by 10% to 20%

30% wrongly assume that maths is a skill
you are born with, rather than a skill
that can be learnt

At school, children are often not prepared for using maths in everyday life

Of 15-16 year olds doing GCSE maths in the UK…

24% of 16-24 year olds achieving A*-C grade at GCSE reach the equivalent level in the Skills for Life assessment

1 in 4 adults in the UK believe school maths did not prepare them well for maths in everyday life

Among those aged 24+
numeracy skills decline with age

 But too few people take steps to improve their numeracy


Data sources:
Skills for Life 2011; PIAAC 2014; National Numeracy YouGov Survey 2014

When we say “low numeracy” we usually mean those below Level 2 on the UK adult qualifications scale.

Image credits:
Created by Christian Wad and Jack Curry from the Noun Project.

Article source: National Numeracy


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Poor Numeracy: more than twice as likely to be unemployed


“People with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed”


Innumeracy costs the UK £20.2 Billion per year; 17 million adults (nearly half of the adult population) have numeracy at/below primary school level.

There is substantial evidence that low numeracy skills are associated with poor outcomes:

  • Employment
    People with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed
  • Wages
    Recent data by the OECD show a direct relationship between wage distribution and numeracy skills
  • Health
    In OECD and UK basic skills reports, the correlation between poor numeracy and poor health is clear; data from the British Cohort Studies have shown that there is also a link between depression and poor numeracy
  • Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties
    Children with these problems are more likely to struggle with numeracy, even taking into account factors such as home background and general ability
  • School exclusions
    Pupils beginning secondary school with very low numeracy skills but good literacy skills have an exclusion rate twice that of pupils starting secondary school with good numeracy skills
  • Truancy
    14-year-olds who have poor maths skills at 11 are more than twice as likely to play truant
  • Crime
    A quarter of young people in custody have a numeracy level below that expected of a 7-year-old, and 65% of adult prisoners have numeracy skills at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old.

Poor numeracy is also a problem in its own right. It can affect people’s confidence and self-esteem. Research from a review of adult up-skilling in numeracy by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has demonstrated that improving numeracy directly contributes to growth in personal and social confidence

The digital age

The digital age presents us with more numerical data than ever before and puts a new premium on numeracy skills.

Computers can do the mathematical processing for us, but we need good numeracy in order to use them effectively – to enter the right data and decide whether the answer seems approximately right.

Right now around 90% of new graduate jobs require a high level of digital skills (Race Online 2012), and digital skills are built on numeracy.

(Article source: National Numeracy)


“Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health.” (OECD)


Read the full article here