"The teaching of basic skills to adults is often marginalised, remaining something of a Cinderella service". The report of a working group chaired by Sir Claus Moser, 1999

The Moser Report

Serious attempts to improve adult numeracy (and literacy) on a national scale began with the appointment of a group to examine post-school literacy and numeracy, chaired by Lord Moser, then chair of the Basic Skills Agency. The Moser Report of 1999 was a crucial step in highlighting the inadequacy of the nation’s numeracy skills and the challenges in addressing the problem with adult numeracy.

Skills for Life Strategy

Following this, the government began to set national standards for adult numeracy and literacy, and in 2001 produced its Skills for Life strategy. This provided funding and a focus for boosting demand and encouraging adults to join courses (delivered in FE colleges, workplaces and other settings) where they would be taught basic skills and gain new qualifications (including numeracy for adults). The courses were promoted through a government publicity campaign Get rid of your gremlins.

The Skills for Life strategy set out to improve adult numeracy (and literacy and language) for 2.25 million individuals by 2010, and emphasised the needs of priority groups such as unemployed people, prisoners and low-skilled workers as part of this adult education. We do not know how much of the £5bn that was invested in Skills for Life between 2001 and 2008 was spent on adult numeracy courses. Nor do we know the precise outcomes of the subsequent Employability Skills Programme which provided literacy and numeracy support alongside employability training and job-search activity for those out of work.

Numeracy the ‘poor relation’

However, we do know that far fewer people took numeracy courses than literacy and that there are still too many adults who struggle with numeracy and need help. Many people started courses but dropped out before the end. Often they felt that they were not succeeding with any new learning. We also know that far fewer teachers specialise in numeracy than literacy, limiting the availability of effective numeracy programmes for adults. According to New Philanthropy Capital's 'Count Me In' report:

“Few charities focus on numeracy, and where they do, the work is fragmented across different organisations”.

Our role

National Numeracy – as a charity dedicated solely to the cause of numeracy – is committed to improving this situation in every way possible. In particular we will campaign for investment in the development of effective teaching programmes and resources and a larger pool of skilled and enthusiastic numeracy teachers, mentors and volunteers (including for adult education).

We believe that in the past there has been too great a focus on the setting of targets for exam passes or test results. This has been at the expense of developing and delivering teaching programmes that actually work, that are geared to people’s everyday lives and that offer opportunities for learning in a range of settings.

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