WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
We believe that ALL people in this country are capable of achieving a level of numeracy that is appropriate to their daily lives and that we are collectively failing many learners by not enabling them to achieve what they are capable of. There is a significant (and up until now somewhat hidden) issue to address…
Here is a selection of the ‘headlines’ from recent research (all of the original reports are in our Resources section):
The Skills for Life survey (2011) measured the numeracy levels of 16 to 65 year-olds in England, finding that:
- 22% of the population (7.5 million adults) are working at Level 2 or above – roughly equivalent to A*-C at GCSE – compared with 26% (8.1million adults) in 2003. The comparable figures for literacy are 57% of the population (19.3 million adults) in 2011 and 44% (14 million adults) in 2003.
Read more about what 'levels' mean in assessing adults' numeracy levels.
This is what that looks like in a graph:
- 17 million adults are working at ‘Entry Levels’ – roughly equivalent to the standard expected by the end of primary school. The equivalent figure for literacy is 5 million adults.
Family lives and educational backgrounds of adults with poor numeracy
Comparing the lives of 34-year-olds who have poor numeracy with those who have good numeracy, those with poor numeracy were:
- twice as likely to receive free school meals at age 10
- twice as likely to have had parents or carers who received unemployment or income support benefits
- much more likely to have parents with no qualifications
- half as likely to have parents who were very interested in their education
- half as likely to have parents who wanted them to stay at school beyond 16
- twice as likely to leave school at 16
- five times more likely to achieve no qualifications by age 34
- 1/6 as likely to have a degree or its equivalent by age 34
- more than twice as likely to have had their first child while still in their teens
- nearly twice as likely to have three children by age 34, and three times as likely to have four children by that age
Employment and earnings
Numeracy skills have a strong impact on employment and earnings.
- adults with Level 1 numeracy or above earn on average 26% more than adults with skills below this level
- when controlling for education level, social class, parental interest in the child’s education and type of school attended, there is still a 10% earnings premium for numeracy.
Among men and women born in 1970, those with poor numeracy
- were more than twice as likely to be unemployed
- were far less likely to receive work-related training, get a promotion or receive a rise
- compared to those with good numeracy
- adults with poor numeracy are 2.5 times more likely to report having a longstanding illness or disability
- among 34-year-olds, men and women with poor numeracy are roughly twice as likely to report several symptoms of depression
Self-perception of numeracy difficulties
- only 8% of the working-age population rate themselves as below average in numeracy
- more than a quarter (28%) of adults with poor numeracy rate their skills as ʻvery goodʼ. Only 5% of this group rate their skills as poor.
Among 34-year-olds who reported having a problem with numeracy:
- more than one-third of men and nearly half of women said they wanted to improve
- fewer than one in 25 had been on an adult numeracy course.
The digital divide
Compared to 34-year-old men and women with good numeracy skills, those with poor skills have been found to be:
- twice as likely to lack Internet access
- twice as likely to not have a computer at home
- more than twice as likely not to use a computer even when there is one in the home.
- primary schools: In the summer of 2011, 20% of 11 year olds in England (110,000 pupils) left primary school without passing the mathematics test at the level expected of them, and 5% failed even to achieve the level expected of a seven year old
- GCSEs: In 2011, 42% of pupils in England failed to achieve an A*-C grade in GCSE mathematics.
Recent surveys show widespread concern amongst employers about their employees’ basic skills. The CBI’s 2008 audit surveyed 735 firms employing 1.7 million people between them.
- over half said they were concerned that they would not be able to find enough skilled people with the right qualifications in future
- there were serious concerns about employees’ ability to spot simple numerical errors, write in sentences, spell correctly and use accurate grammar
- some 40% of employers reported poor customer services and 34% lowered productivity as a result
- around a quarter were investing in remedial literacy and numeracy training
For women, poor numeracy is an independent predictor of:
- poor physical health
- a perceived lack of control over their lives
- being out of the labour market (regardless of how many children they had) or, if in work, of being in an unskilled or semi-skilled job;
- living in a household where no-one works.
Even when their literacy is good:
- participation in a company pension scheme is less likely for men with poor numeracy
- the risk of depression is greater for men with poor numeracy
- there is a higher probability of having been suspended from school, or arrested and cautioned by the police,
Looking internationally, a Canadian study found that numeracy is ‘generally a statistically significant determinant of labour market status, whilst literacy is most often not statistically significant.’