From strikes to the NHS there is plenty going on – but Rishi Sunak is right to put “maths ’til 18” at the top of the agenda
From the NHS’ well documented woes to rail strikes and Brexit, there is much on the government’s plate – but Rishi Sunak is right to put a light on Britain’s poor levels of numeracy, argues Sam Sims, the CEO of charity National Numeracy
When there is so much else on the government’s domestic agenda – spanning from the waves of strikes to the NHS crisis – why is the prime minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement about maths worth taking seriously?
Today, the prime minister set out his intention to introduce compulsory maths for all students up to the age of 18.
While details of the policy have not been revealed, one thing is certain: it is vital that poor numeracy in the UK is addressed. Why? Because half the working age population of the UK (49 per cent) has the expected numeracy levels of a primary school child.
In recent National Numeracy research, 30 per cent of the UK’s 18- to 24-year-olds said that using maths and numbers made them feel anxious.
Maths ’til 18 could be part of the answer
Our children are entering adulthood feeling ill-equipped to use numeracy in everyday life, for continuing their studies – whether academic or vocational – getting into work or managing their household finances.
The UK’s numeracy levels are significantly below the average for developed countries, and poor numeracy costs the UK economy as much as £25bn a year in lost earnings.
But will the prime minister’s approach to maths work? The devil is in the detail, of course, so we’ll have to wait and see. What’s for sure is that there are many pressing educational needs, not least the supply of teachers and support for educators to deliver any new kind of numeracy education.
We believe understanding and working with numbers is crucial for everybody, no matter what level of attainment, not just those going on to further study.
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.
Poor numeracy is undoubtedly holding the UK back. It blights livelihoods, limits social mobility and contributes to pervasive problems from unemployment to poor health and debt.
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.
But people with low number confidence and numeracy skills need to be supported to feel ready and confident to learn – at any age.