Maths

Numeracy Day: Solving England’s maths equation

17 May 2023

What is National Numeracy Day?

17th May is the national day set aside to campaign for building brighter futures through building confidence with numbers and everyday maths skills. It is aimed at raising the low levels of numeracy among both children and adults.

The broader vision of the National Numeracy Day campaign is for everyone in the UK “to get on with numbers so they can get on in life.”​ 

The day is especially topical this year after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s controversial maths attainment policy proposal requiring school pupils in England to study maths until age 18.

More recently, Sunak announced a review of the mathematics curriculum across England, tasking a group of advisers to examine the core maths content currently taught in schools and share recommendations by summer.

Doing the maths

Numeracy levels in the UK are significantly lower as compared to other developed nations. About half, representing 49%, of the working-age population of the UK have the expected numeracy level of a primary school child – according to the 2022 UK Numeracy Index

With 30% of school-leavers between ages 18–24 feeling anxious about using maths and numbers, it means millions of children lack number confidence and are likely to start out their careers at a disadvantage. Additionally, poor numeracy costs the UK economy up to £25 billion a year.

A pupil solving a maths problem

Why numeracy is important

Numeracy provides children and young people with valuable tools for daily life, problem-solving, career opportunities, data interpretation, logical thinking, and future readiness.

  • Numeracy skills are fundamental for managing personal finances, budgeting, and making informed decisions about spending and saving money. Children who are numerically literate are better equipped to handle financial challenges and make responsible choices throughout their lives.
  • They enhance logical reasoning and problem-solving abilities. Mathematics encourages critical thinking, logical analysis, and the ability to break down complex problems into smaller, manageable parts in real-life situations.
  • Strong numeracy skills open up a wide range of career opportunities, including fields such as science, engineering, finance, data analysis, and technology. By developing these skills, children and young people increase their chances of success in these fields.

Solving the big maths problem

The lingering problem that will beset the proposed national maths agenda is the deficit of maths teachers. In practice, the policy may not yield the intended results as the Department for Education (DfE) have fallen short of recruitment targets in the last decade, despite being lowered since 2019.

Hence, the key obstacle to solving the low numeracy problem is the critical shortage of specialist maths teachers and that could undermine maths education in schools in England.

Almost half of secondary schools have had to fall on a non-specialist to teach maths lessons in schools and about one in eight maths lessons (12%) are taught by someone without a maths degree.

The lack of quantity and quality of teacher applicants and budget pressures remain the stumbling blocks to improving teacher recruitment. For Mr. Sunak’s maths formula to be workable, the government should develop a renewed focus on improving teacher recruitment and retention.

The introduction of special incentives to ramp up the volume of maths teacher applications, including improved pay and working conditions and bursaries for training and quality improvement measures, could collectively help the situation. Without increasing the number of maths teachers, the numeracy problem will continue to persist.

Take action this National Numeracy Day

National Numeracy Day line up of events

This year’s National Numeracy Day campaign has a line-up of activities across social media with several celebrity ambassadors joining the online conversation to share their number stories.

Join the campaign by signing up to access resources and be part of activities via this link: National Numeracy Day 2023 sign-up.

Also, another way to take action beyond the day is to volunteer as a maths tutor and help disadvantaged pupils improve their numeracy skills and abilities. Action Tutoring provides all the resources and training to help you give maths support to young people for an hour each week, either online or face-to-face in schools.

The far-reaching impact of numeracy

Overall, the benefits of numeracy and mathematics are significant and far-reaching, making it a crucial skill to cultivate. Improving numeracy early in life, particularly for those who are falling behind in school, is critical to bridging the attainment gap between poorer and wealthy students.