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Building a numerate nation: confidence, belief and skills

26 Nov 2019

This report, launched at the Bank of England in November 2019, reveals that millions of adults lack basic numeracy skills, leaving them unprepared for the workplace and everyday life. There has been no progress in meeting targets set 20 years ago by the government’s then Chief Statistician Lord Moser, who called for a reversal of the decline in the basic skills deficit by 2010. 

Multiple data sources have been analysed to produce the new body of evidence, including an analysis of psychological factors in over 55,000 adults using the National Numeracy Challenge.

Building a numerate nation

Key findings include that: 

  • A quarter of adults have ‘acceptable’ levels of numeracy, with around half at the level expected of a primary school child. 
  • Business leaders significantly undervalued the cost of poor numeracy to the UK, estimating a cost of £7 million per week vs the actual £388 million.
  • Over 90% of both business leaders and MPs agreed that there needs to be a renewed focus on adult numeracy from government and employers. 
  • Confidence with numbers was found to be the dominant factor linked to numeracy score. 
  • Having the belief that you can improve your skills was found to be the biggest indicator that your numeracy score would improve. 

National Numeracy recommends:

  • For policymakers to initiate a major new ‘Fresh Start for Adult Numeracy’ initiative. This could take the form of a national campaign to build the nation’s confidence with numbers, and follow influential examples from fitness and wellbeing, such as  ‘This Girl Can’.
  • For business leaders to recognise this critical national issue and enable their staff to work towards getting the Essentials of Numeracy , and show their support for National Numeracy Day.
  • For everyone to understand that they can improve their numeracy skills, in the same way that everyone can get physically fitter.

Read the full report

Read the news article from 26 November 2019

Data Sources

  1. YouGov survey of a representative sample of 101 MPs (September 2019) to gain insight into their evaluation of the scale and cost of the numeracy issue
    1. YouGov summary
    2. Full data with summary by National Numeracy
  2. YouGov survey of 591 senior decision makers (September 2019) to gain insight into their evaluation of the scale and cost of the numeracy issue
    1. YouGov summary
    2. Full data with summary by National Numeracy
  3. Both of these surveys in turn referred to an Ipsos MORI poll we conducted of the nation in May 2019 of over 2000 adults aged 16 to 75 in the UK to assess levels of numeracy among the public and explore attitudes towards maths and numbers. The survey is summarised in this report
  4. YouGov survey of the nation (c.2000 people aged 16+) (September 2019), designed to replicate a short version of in-house numeracy assessment, plus the attitudinal survey
    1. Full spreadsheet of numeracy and attitudinal questions
    2. YouGov summary of question answers

Analyses A & B: Conducted by Dr Tom Hunt, Associate Professor in Psychology from the University of Derby (available on request by contacting [email protected]

Analysis C: Finally, because of the self-selecting nature of Challenge data, we needed to conduct a comparative analysis to compare and contrast the Challenge data and YouGov UK data (source 4) in order to ratify our logistic regression. This document explains our approach.