It’s a normal day at Hourglass HQ and I’ve been grappling with quantitative information. There have been pixel calculations followed by income tax for overseas teachers, and I haven’t even had lunch yet!
These activities would not surprise the helpful people at the charity, National Numeracy. Their Chief Executive, Mike Ellicock, says we’re constantly challenged by numbers in everyday life, and it’s impossible to make good decisions without them. Whether we’re working out whether to use award points or money to buy an airline ticket, or how to adjust a recipe to feed six people instead of four, fractions, percentages, approximation, spatial understanding, rates of change, graphs and basic arithmetic are all part of number sense and help us to interpret the information around us.
School maths is letting us down
Nevertheless, National Numeracy believes that school maths is letting us down. Research released earlier this year revealed that over half of adults in the UK have poor or low numeracy skills, equivalent to the level expected of a primary school child and 1 in 4 people would be put off applying for a job if numbers and data were listed as a requirement,
Of course it’s crucial for schools and students to do well in maths. Without a decent GCSE grade, post-16 education is a very different place. Ellicock takes this a step further, stating that the fallout from a numerically illiterate population can be disastrous. He identifies a causal link between the sub-prime financial crash which started in the US and a lack of consumer understanding of the implications of interest rates and mortgage payment commitments.
Always keen to raise low levels of numeracy among both adults and children, National Numeracy has renamed this month “Checktember”. Everyone is encouraged to go online to check they have the number skills needed for everyday life and work.
There's also the National Numeracy Challenge, a free service which helps people to check their level and get help to improve. A score of 80 or more is roughly equivalent to a GCSE pass (Adult Level 2) but whatever the level achieved, there are learning resources provided for free to build up your skills.
Mary Meredith, Hourglass Education