As a report finds that millions of adults have numeracy skills expected of an 11 year old, UK companies, fearful their workers will not spot “rogue figures”, are training employees in basic maths.
The National Numeracy charity says that adults are struggling to calculate change and understand their payslips. It calls for the UK to change its attitude to maths so that being bad at maths should no longer be seen as a “badge of honour”.
Young people with poor numeracy are twice as likely to be excluded from school, we know adults with poor numeracy are twice as likely to be unemployed, said Chris Humphries, chairman of National Numeracy. Poor numeracy “seriously blights” individual’s life chances, he added.
Figures from a Government survey published last year show that 17 million adults in England have basic maths skills that are, at best, the same as an 11-year-olds.
How good is your maths? You can test your maths here by doing the question below, which is the ‘adult numeracy level 1’ for maths, which is similar to GCSE level.
For more tests you can click on this link to one of the exam boards.
The repair bay is 11.8 metres long and 6.2 metres wide. The owner calculates the area as 73.2 square metres. Which calculation gives the closest estimate of the area of the repair bay?
A 11 x 6
B 11 x 7
C 12 x 6
D 12 x 7
To try more questions click on this link.
Politicians, schools and business leaders have talked about improving people’s maths for decades, but more attention has been paid to improving literacy rates, according to Mike Ellicock, chief executive of National Numeracy. “The perennial problem is that people talk about numeracy and literacy but the focus is on literacy skills because they’re easier to do,” he said.
A YouGov poll of 2,068 adults, commissioned by National Numeracy, reveals that while four in five would feel embarrassed to tell someone they were bad at reading and writing, only 56 per cent would feel embarrassed about admitting their poor maths skills.
The number of UK adults with poor maths skills is a growing problem for employers, who need to train some employees in mental aritmethic, such as working out percentage changes and fractions.
James Fothergill, head of education and skills at employers’ group the CBI, told Channel Four News that when it questioned its business members last year around one in five said that they had to teach school leavers remedial maths. “It’s really important that [employees] are helped to apply maths skills and concepts in practical situations, such as being able to work out what a 30 per cent discount is without doing it on the till,” Fothergill said.
Two thirds of businesses surveyed by the CBI said they were concerned about employees’ ability to spot “rogue figures”. The poor numeracy could have serious consequences for businesses because it may potentially increase the risk of errors in accounts or fraud going undetected. The CBI thinks that pupils who don’t get at least a grade C at GCSE should be required to carry on studying maths until they do so.
Graeme Hughes, group director at human resources and corproate affairs at Nationwide Building Society, said that the number of job candidates it interviewed who couldn’t do basic maths had increased slightly in the past few years.
Nationwide works with schools to teach numeracy and help children learn how to manage their money – such as how to avoid getting into debt or to understand different types of interest rate.
Being able to do mental arithmetic isn’t always essential in the workplace, however. One big recuitment company told Channel Four News that employers often value computer skills in employees more than mental arithmetic.
“As there is increasing reliance in many sectors on computers and automated systems, we find that many employers are more concerned that candidates have strong numeracy skills linked to computer packages such as Microsoft Excel, rather than mental arithmetic skills,” said Simon Baddeley, senior regional director at Reed Specialist Recruitment. “We test candidates to see if they possess these skills as it is important for many roles that they have a good understanding of computer databases, can create formulas, possess the basic maths to create and manage databases, and – crucially – spot any errors in automated systems.
John Lewis said that it helps employees improve their maths skills by providing free web-based learning, or paying for half of tution costs at local colleges.
Despite the concerns over the numeracy of millions of adults, more people are studying maths at UK universities. The number of people accepted to study mathematical and computer sciences at UK universities has increased steadily over the past five years – from 24,722 in 2006 to 33,407 in 2011, according to figures from Ucas.
The Department for Education said it was a “national scandal” that almost half the adult population have poor numeracy skills. It said it wanted the vast majority of young people to continue to study maths up to 18 within a decade to meet the growing demand for employees with high-level and intermediate maths skills.
“We are undertaking a root and branch review of how maths is taught in schools, attracting the best maths graduates into the profession, strengthening training through our network of specialist teaching schools and we are overhauling GCSEs and A-levels to make sure they are robust and in line with the best education systems in the world,” the DfE said in a statement.