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National Numeracy comment on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's ‘maths to 18’ policy  

4 Jan 2023

Independent charity National Numeracy welcomes the Prime Minister’s  focus on numeracy in UK education, but hopes the policy will be closely linked to the skills needed in everyday life. 

maths teacher pointing at whiteboard
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced his intention to introduce compulsory maths for all students up to the age of 18.  

While details of the policy have not been revealed, National Numeracy will be looking for a strong link to the real-life maths needed outside of the classroom, for everything from managing money to getting on at work.  

The charity also hopes the approach will support every student, no matter what level of attainment, as well as supporting teachers and educators to deliver improved numeracy for all. 

18-24s are the most maths-anxious age group

Half the working age population of the UK (49%) has the expected numeracy levels of a primary school child.  
In National Numeracy’s recent research, 30% of 18- to 24-year-olds said that using maths and numbers made them feel anxious. This compares to 18% of all UK adults and was the highest level of anxiety of any age adult group*.  

It shows that 18-year-olds are leaving education feeling ill-equipped to use numeracy in everyday life. 

National Numeracy hopes for an 'everyday maths' policy

Sam Sims, Chief Executive of National Numeracy said: “We look forward to hearing more about the government’s new approach. We will be looking for the new policy to focus on developing the kinds of skills that everyone needs to apply maths to real-life problems, at work and in life. 
“For instance, the existing Core Maths qualifications for those achieving a GSCE Level 4 or above helps build confidence in applying maths to real-life situations. That’s a good thing. But we believe understanding and working with numbers is crucial for everybody – not just those going on to study AS or A-Levels." 

Mr Sims continued: "Poor numeracy is holding the UK back. It blights lives and livelihoods, limits social mobility and contributes to pervasive problems from unemployment to poor health and debt.   

“Numeracy is fundamental to the fabric of our lives. Improving numeracy offers benefits right across society, helping people to get on in vital aspects of their lives at a time the UK really needs a skilled and confident population."

People with low numeracy at any age need to be supported

“But people with low number confidence and numeracy skills need to be supported to feel ready and confident to learn – at any age.  

“To make that happen, we need a revolution in the way we think about numeracy in the UK. The British culture of being negative about numbers, or even boasting about being bad at them, needs to change.  
Mr Sims continued: “National Numeracy’s work is all about removing barriers and empowering adults and children to improve their confidence and competence with numbers, to help them in all aspects of their lives, whether it is to access training and jobs, and to thrive within a changing workforce, to support children with their homework, or to manage our household budgets. 
“We welcome a spotlight being shone on the UK’s poor numeracy levels – an issue we have been campaigning on for a decade - and look forward to seeing the detail of the government’s new policy.” 

Fair Education for all

As the UK's only charity dedicated to everyday maths, National Numeracy believes 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. 

But the 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. 
As a member of the Fair Education Alliance, we are joining its call for seven key actions to narrow this attainment and poverty gap. These include investment in a range of vocational qualifications for students with a range of GSCE attainment levels.

National Numeracy is tackling the UK's numeracy crisis

The UK’s numeracy levels are significantly below the average for developed countries, with poor numeracy costs the UK economy £25 billion a year

National Numeracy has joined forces with HM Treasury and a pioneering group of organisations to tackle the UK’s numeracy crisis, by forming the National Numeracy Leadership Council
The Council, formed in 2022, is chaired by Andy Haldane, Chief Executive of the RSA and previously Chief Economist at the Bank of England. 

The charity is also working with Local Authorities to deliver numeracy improvement initiatives across the country, as part of the Multiply programme.  

A practical first step for people of any age to start improving their numeracy is to try the charity’s free website, the National Numeracy Challenge

For media enquiries please contact [email protected]
* National Numeracy commissioned YouGov to conduct a survey of 2,229 adults (18+) between 12th - 13th September 2022, to assess levels for numeracy and explore attitudes towards maths and numbers. The survey was carried out online. The final weighted sample is representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)  

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