National Numeracy welcomes Sir Adrian Smith's Review of Post-16 Mathematics

Sir Adrian Smith

Mike Ellicock, CEO of the charity National Numeracy, said of the report published on 20th July 2017, "We strongly agree with Sir Adrian's conclusion that this country does not yet have the right pathways available or the capacity to deliver post-16 mathematics education. 

National Numeracy has introduced an online alternative - the Essentials of Numeracy - and in our report published earlier in July 2017, Sir Adrian himself said: 'My recent work reviewing post-16 mathematics education for the government has surfaced a number of wider issues, including the remarkable statistic that approximately half the adult population have the number skills that we expect of an 11 year old - or worse. Clearly we need to do thing differently and embedding the Essentials of Numeracy within the workplace would appear to be a sensible start'. 

We wholeheartedly agree with Sir Adrian - the current system abjectly fails to equip far too many young people adequately for their future lives and the world of work." 

See BBC News coverage of Sir Adrian’s Report


The key points from the Executive Summary and Recommendations from National Numeracy’s perspective:

Why bother?

Adults with basic numeracy skills earn higher wages and are more likely to be employed than those who fail to master basic quantitative skills. Higher levels of achievement in mathematics are associated with higher earnings for individuals and higher productivity. Increased productivity is a key determinant of economic growth - p.6.

What about Level 2 and below?

Given the important role that functional skills qualifications play for 16- 18 students not taking GCSE or level 3 mathematics, it is essential that the new qualifications, currently being developed, have a clear purpose and fit appropriately alongside others in the 16-18 mathematics landscape – particularly in relation to GCSE mathematics – p.7.

NN comment – we are working with Cambridge Mathematics to map the Essentials of Numeracy content across to GCSE – watch this space!

What about low GCSE success rates?

Recommendation 5: In view of the low GCSE success rates and new GCSE requirements, the Department for Education should review its 16-18 resit policy with the aim that a greater proportion of students without a grade C or equivalent attain appropriate mathematical understanding by age 18. Specifically, there should be fresh consideration of appropriate curricula and qualifications for these students and the extent to which current policy incentivises these to be offered - p.9. 

NN comment – we believe that the Essentials of Numeracy could provide this ‘appropriate mathematical understanding’. 

See NN separate comment on this issue here

What about the use of technology?

Recommendation 14: The Department for Education should seek to improve the evidence base on the role and effectiveness of technology in the teaching of 16-18 mathematics. 

Recommendation 15: The Department for Education, in conjunction with partners such as the Institute for Apprenticeships, should fund online professional development resources and materials aimed at increasing the numbers of teachers of mathematics and quantitative skills within new technical education routes and core maths. p.12

NN comment – as we state in our Essentials of Numeracy Report: Current indications suggest that we will be unable to properly staff expanded maths education in schools and colleges in the near future. While that is a complex problem that needs determination, money and time to resolve, it does suggest that a lot more attention needs to be paid to the effective use of technology.

What about attitudes?

Recommendation 16: The Department for Education should commission a study, from pre-school onwards, into the cultural and other root causes of negative attitudes to mathematics, including gender and other sub-group effects. p.13

NN comment – addressing negative attitudes has been a major focus of our work since we launched in 2012. We are keen for the Department for Education to support this work and we will of course share data on what has worked and what hasn’t, but we are keen to scale up effective approaches to improving attitudes (rather than just to contribute to another study).

What skills are really needed to interpret and act upon ‘big data’?

Recommendation 18: The Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy should commission a study into the long-term implications of the rise of data science as an academic and professional field, looking at skills required for the future and the specific implications for education and training in mathematics and quantitative skills.

NN comment – we have long been critical of the false assumptions that are currently built into the secondary mathematics curriculum – and that turn off thousands of students each year because they cannot see the relevance. Also see Conrad Wolfram’s TED Talk for an excellent analysis of this issue.


Overall we are glad that the report is now out at long last and we are keen to engage with the Department for Education to improve the mathematical and quantitative skills both of those going through the education system and the 78% of adults who are currently working below the level that we expect of 16 year olds.