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Every child should leave school confident in maths, but disadvantage in education is growing

22 Nov 2022

By Sam Sims, Chief Executive, National Numeracy

The Fair Education Alliance Report Card highlights that the disadvantage gap in education is as big as it was a decade ago.

As a member of the Fair Education Alliance, National Numeracy champions the organisation's research as part of our mission to empower everyone in the UK to have the numeracy that allows them to fulfil their potential​ at work, home and school.

young school children studying at a desk

As the UK's only charity dedicated to everyday maths, we believe that every child should leave school with the skills and confidence to use maths in everyday life, and an understanding of the value that maths can bring to their lives.

We believe that however they get on with maths at school, they can always improve. But this cohort of people who have left school without the number confidence or numeracy skills they need to get on in life is increasing every year.

Combined with the UK’s stubbornly low levels of numeracy, it paints a sobering picture – but crucially one that we are determined to play a part in changing.

The FEA's latest Report Card shows that the disadvantage gaps in England are still as wide as they were a decade ago, and they are likely to grow. It shows that:

  • The attainment gaps at primary and GCSE levels are each at their highest levels since 2012. 
  • Regional disparities are widening, and those who have experienced poverty for the longest are falling further behind.
  • The mental health and wellbeing of poorer pupils and those with learning difficulties has failed to bounce back from pandemic lows at the same rate as others. 
  • Income still dictates the type of destination young people enter after age 16.
FEA report card graph

The research backs up Government surveys and work we’ve commissioned over the years, most recently to coincide with our 10th anniversary, which show that half the working age population of the UK has numeracy levels equivalent to a primary school pupil .

What's more, we appear to care less about improving with 57% of respondents saying they didn’t want to improve their maths and numeracy, compared to 43% in 2019. (Read our most recent research here.)

Meanwhile, working class and unemployed people, and part-time workers have the lowest skills, highlighting where help is most needed.

As a member of the Alliance, we are joining the FEA’s call for seven key actions to narrow this attainment and poverty gap

What the FEA are calling for: A national wellbeing census; A holistic Children and Families strategy; Balanced school accoutnabilities that recognise underserved school; Investment in a variety of vocational qualifications for students with a range of GCSE attainment levels; Targeted spending - a school funding index, an uplift to Pupil Premium & an extension of Free School Meals to all families who recieve universal credit; Creation of a national learning centre for place-based change; Meaningful participation by young people in decisions impacting their education.

Try the National Numeracy Challenge

However you feel about maths, you’re not alone. The National Numeracy Challenge is a free and easy-to-use website you can use to improve your confidence with numbers, in your own time and at your own pace.

It’s ideal for brushing up, checking your level, or for catching up on learning you missed, and it’s all about the maths you need in daily life and at work – no algebra or trigonometry.

Image showing the Challenge on a computer monitor