New calls for urgent overhaul of maths education in the UK

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New reports from both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) released today warn that the UK education system is failing to provide the basic maths skills needed for everyday life and work, adversely affecting young people, adults and the wider economy.


The OECD's report Building Skills for All: A Review of England has found that, while England is around average for adult literacy compared to other OECD countries, it is "well below average" for numeracy skills, with around 9 million people having difficulty with everyday tasks, such as estimating how much petrol is left in the tank from looking at a gauge.

The report particularly emphaises that young people in England lag behind their peers in other countries, where rising education attainment has driven better basic skills. Although England has seen a rise in qualification attainment, including in GCSE maths, this has not been matched by an improvement in basic skills levels. The OECD also notes recent initiatives by the government to improve skills, but cautions that it is too early to judge if these are successful. 

At the same time, new results from the UKCES 2015 Employer Skills Survey reveal that modest economic growth in the past 4 years has been met by an unprecedented shortage of applicants with basic skills. The survey of over 90,000 employers shows higher skilled vacancies rising by 130% since 2011. The Commission says that skills gaps continue to be more prevalent in unskilled or semi-skilled occupations. 

National Numeracy believes the OECD’s report in particular shows the urgent need for a co-ordinated approach to improving the numeracy of people in and out of work by both government and employers. It argues for additional practical, everyday maths education for young people both before and after 16, and believes current government reforms do not go far enough in addressing the root causes of under-achievement and a lack of competance. Simon Field, Senior Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills, has explored what the report findings mean in more detail in his blog for the CVER, Why do we bother with qualifications? 

Chief Executive of National Numeracy Mike Ellicock said:

“There is a big gap between the maths young people learn at school, in effect complex maths in simple situations, and the maths all of us need every day, simple maths in complex, real-life situations.

We need a new approach to bridge that gap and to help adults build the skills they never truly learnt at school.” 

National Numeracy Challenge provides an alternative approach to maths learning for adults.

The Challenge aims to develop confidence and improve the maths skills of adults with poor numeracy. Based on modelling of the skills and attitudes essential for mathematical competency, it challenges people to improve their maths and gives them the tools to learn in a way which suits them.


Read the OECD report in full

Read the UKCES report in full

Visit the Challenge Online