UK-wide measures of numeracy levels
This comparison is in line with The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey and the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC).
England and Wales have implemented strategies for improving adult literacy and numeracy following on from national surveys to measure overall skills, as well as the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). England conducted the Skills for Life Survey from 2003 to 2011, and Wales ran the National Survey of Adult Skills from 2004 to 2010, both using levels exactly equivalent to learning curriculums for adults and young people within the two regions.
Scotland measures adult numeracy by standards set in the 1999 International Adult Literacy Skills Survey and did not participate in the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC).
Northern Ireland measures adult numeracy based on findings from OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC).
Independently of these reports, the British Cohort Study also includes measures of numeracy abilities and was conducted across the whole of the UK. Although a number of other reports feature the issue of adult numeracy, these are not geared towards providing an accurate snap-shot of numeracy levels across the UK.
International measures of numeracy levels
The OECD use international measures of numeracy levels which roughly correspond to the curriculum in the UK. In the table above we have provided more exact comparison between UK and international measures. Level 2 in the English and Welsh National standards, which we define as the minimum, starts roughly half-way through International Level 3.
For the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills Levels expected standards at each level are described as follows:
Below Level 1:
At this level individuals must be able to carry out simple processes such as:
- counting and sorting
- performing basic arithmetic operations with whole numbers and money
- recognise common spatial representations
- other familiar contexts where the mathematical content is clear with little or no text
At this level individuals must be able to carry out simple, one-step mathematical processes where the mathematical content is clear with little text, such as the following:
- counting and sorting
- performing basic arithmetic operations
- understanding simple percentages
- locating and identifying simple, common graphical or spatial representations
At this level individuals must be able to identify and act on mathematical information embedded in a range of common contexts where the mathematical content is fairly clear or visual. Tasks tend to require the application of two or more steps, such as the following:
- processes involving calculation with whole numbers and common decimals
- percentages and fractions
- simple measurement and spatial representation
- interpretation of relatively simple data and statistics in texts, tables and graphs
At this level individuals must be able to understand mathematical information that may be less clear, embedded in contexts that are not always familiar and represented in more complex ways. Tasks require several steps and may involve the choice of problem-solving strategies, such as the following
- application of number sense and spatial sense
- recognising and working with mathematical relationships, patterns and proportions expressed in verbal or numerical form
- interpretation and basic analysis of data and statistics in texts, tables and graphs.
At this level individuals must be able to understand a broad range of mathematical information that may be complex, abstract or embedded in unfamiliar contexts. These tasks involve undertaking multiple steps and choosing relevant problem-solving strategies, such as the following:
- analysis and more complex reasoning with quantities and data
- statistics and probability
- spatial relationships
- change, proportions and formulas
- understanding arguments and communicating explanations for answers
At this level individuals must be able to understand complex representations, abstract and formal mathematical and statistical ideas, possibly embedded in more complex forms. This includes the following:
- integrating multiple types of mathematical information where considerable interpretation is required
- come to well reasoned conclusions
- work with mathematical arguments and models
- justify, evaluate and critically reflect on answers