Our workforce won’t be fit for the future unless we disregard the idea we don’t need maths or numeracy skills, writes Nicholas Lyons.
Last week, teenagers across the country gathered to find out the results of years of hard work. Some pupils will be feeling very pleased with their mark in GCSE mathematics, and I congratulate them.
For others, trying to obtain a pass grade will have been much more of a struggle. Some may have been consoled by the thought that maths doesn’t matter because we all have calculators on our phones anyway.
For too long, we Brits have adopted a curious attitude toward mathematics. Though most understand its importance in almost every aspect of our lives, as a nation we’re unphased – or even amused – when people pronounce themselves “hopeless at maths”. But it is no laughing matter.
In the UK, around half of working-age adults have the numeracy level expected of a primary school child.
That figure should shock and shame us. Firstly, because a basic understanding of maths is fundamental if people are to get a grasp on their personal finances – especially during a cost-of-living crisis.
Indeed, it’s perhaps no coincidence that a similar number of people – around half – don’t feel confident managing their money day-to-day.
Another reason why numeracy is so important is because many of the jobs of tomorrow – particularly in areas like technology and science – will demand a more sophisticated understanding of numbers. Indeed, research has shown that, in general, workers with low numeracy earn around 6.5 per cent less than their peers. That differential is only going to widen.
A lack of basic numeracy skills prevents Brits of all ages from reaching their potential in life and work. It lies at the heart of the issue of social mobility.
England remains unusual among advanced countries in that the study of mathematics is not universal for all students beyond 16. And the UK’s numeracy levels are significantly below the OECD average.
So, I was pleased to see the Prime Minister unveil plans for all pupils in England to study maths up to the age of 18.
Yet research shows that children’s money habits are formed as early as age seven, and there’s a compelling argument therefore for increased financial education at a much earlier age.
As the premier financial hub, the City has a moral obligation to do what it can to promote numeracy and financial literacy, and tackle the issue of financial exclusion blighting the lives of 1.1 million Brits.
That’s why I’ve made this a key pillar of my mayoral aims – Financing our Future – and there are many great organisations working on these issues already.
My charity, the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, has partnered with the brilliant charity “National Numeracy”, which seeks to foster a culture where people of all ages feel comfortable improving their numeracy skills.
In April, I was proud to bring key stakeholders together for the first Financial Literacy and Inclusion Summit at Mansion House, which led to the creation of a steering group to formulate a comprehensive plan to boost both financial literacy across the UK.
While the exam hall may be a long-distant memory – or recurring nightmare – for many of us, we must recognise the importance of maths education and do all we can to boost numeracy and financial literacy for generations to come.