Latest meeting of the Numeracy Forum

Sixty of National Numeracy’s colleagues and partners from education, business, academia and the voluntary sector gathered at Nationwide Building Society offices in the City of London this week for the bi-annual Numeracy Forum. Topics on the agenda included Numeracy & Money Management and Tackling the Adult Numeracy Skills Shortfall.  

How much maths do we need to manage our money?  

Mindset, confidence and attitudes featured heavily in this session, starting with David Haigh from Money Advice Service, who spoke about the role of internal factors, such as motivation, in advance of their new financial capability strategy being launched at the end of October. This was echoed by Bas Diablos of Citizens Advice, who talked about financial capability as a wider issue than money or numeracy, encompassing various learning skills such as practise, making mistakes and learning from them, and building ‘financial resilience’. 

Wendy Alcock from Money Saving Expert talked about offers and financial products and using maths skills to avoid getting a bad deal, as well as the role of confidence in becoming financially capable. This sparked a debate about cultural norms, with one attendee remarking that it’s possible to access a cash loan online in just a few clicks, but that as a society we don’t feel comfortable talking to family and friends about our disposable income, cash flow or pension choices.

Steve Stillwell from Young Enterprise outlined findings from their London Lead Teacher project, which suggested that teachers lacked confidence in discussing money and financial maths with their pupils, just as other adults often do. However when teachers were given help and advice, it built their confidence and improved students’ results.  Nationwide Building Society are now working with Young Enterprise to widen this work and Stephen Uden spoke about Nationwide’s approach to education resources, which start for children as young as four  as this is where problems often begin.  He pointed out the importance of linking resources to the curriculum and said he would like to see the financial services industry in the same position as technology companies, who live or die by the quality of their products. 


Tackling the adult numeracy skills shortfall

In the afternoon, the focus shifted to the general shortfall in adult numeracy skills. Catherine Paulson-Ellis from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills explained how they are systematically building numeracy into more educational routes, such as apprenticeships, traineeships, 16-18 study programmes, mandatory paths for job-seekers and as part of career progression, as in the Army. 

As part of this the government have committed to reforming Functional Skills qualifications. These maths and English qualifications are taken by one million people each year, yet they have little recognition and lack the prestige of GCSEs, and the underpinning principles have not been updated since 2001. The Education and Training Foundation will be leading this redevelopment and Sue Southwood spoke about a new invitation to tender to work with them on the consultation which will run early next year, with the new qualifications being ready in September 2018.  

Jonathan Wells from ForSkills spoke about their comparison between people on functional skills courses who used e-learning and those who didn’t, finding that even a low amount of time spent online can make a real difference to the learner. He added that new Functional Skills qualifications will need to reflect the way that we use English and maths with technology so that they are relevant for the modern workplace.

Mike Ellicock from National Numeracy pointed out the review presents an opportunity to incorporate the principals of resilience into maths education for the first time, reflecting the way we now use numeracy skills with technology, and switching the focus to simple maths in complex settings. He added that still, after four years, the 2011 Skills for Life survey figures on adult numeracy generate almost universal surprise, so it’s something National Numeracy need to continue to address.

The session was followed by a lively debate. Among other things there was criticism of the practice of comparing adult skills levels to those of children at particular ages. National Numeracy recognises the comparisons are crude, as adults’ experience and skills are never the same as children’s, but feels that they are often the most easily understood way to make the point. 

The Numeracy Forum
meets bi-annually and focuses on different topics at each event. If you would like to suggest future topics or speakers, or would like to find out more, contact the Communications & Marketing Manager Fiona Salter.

View the slides from the Numeracy Forum (pdf)

Read the #NNForum discussion from Twitter

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