International Literacy Day: Q&A with our Curriculum, Training & Quality Manager

7 September 2023

8th September is International Literacy Day – an annual celebration of the transformative power of literacy and to raise awareness of the need to increase literacy levels across the world.

Literacy, as defined by the National Literacy Trust, is the ability to read, write, speak, and listen in a way that enables us to communicate effectively and make sense of the world around us. 

Being literate is crucial for everyone, both young and old, as it’s a gateway to a world of knowledge and empowers individuals across their lifetimes to make informed decisions. For children, it’s the foundation for all learning, fueling their dreams and aspirations. For adults, it’s a lifeline to personal development, better opportunities, and financial stability.

According to UNESCO, an estimated 763 million youth and adults worldwide still lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, with two-thirds being women. In England, 6.4% of adults representing 7.1 million people have ‘poor literacy skills.’

To mark International Literacy Day, we’ve asked our Curriculum, Training, and Quality Manager, Bethan Puig Nieves, a few questions on why literacy matters and what actions everyone can take to support it. Before joining Action Tutoring, Bethan previously taught secondary school English in multiple countries including Spain, Cuba, and the UK.

Curriculum, Training and Quality Manager, Bethan Puig Nieves on Literacy Day
Curriculum, Training and Quality Manager, Bethan Puig Nieves

Why is literacy important today more than ever in education?

Being able to read confidently and communicate effectively are skills that form the foundation of success across all areas of the curriculum. Literacy is one of the vital tools to which pupils facing disadvantage might not have had as much access, which means it is all the more important that we emphasise the importance of being literate in education, and embed the development of these skills in everything we do.

Beyond education, how can literacy help people’s lives?

Being literate allows us to make sense of the world around us: it helps us to manage our finances, understand the job market, relate to a wider range of people, support the development of others, and evaluate the validity of what we see and hear in the media. All of these are essential for a happy and fulfilled life, especially in the world we live in today.

How does Action Tutoring ensure that the young people we support build on their literacy levels?

Literacy skills are embedded throughout our resources and workbooks. Examples include the discussion of ideas in texts, and working through word-based maths problems and tasks which improve the quality of writing for a range of useful purposes. Moreover, small group tutoring creates an environment where pupils who might not always get a chance for a detailed conversation with an educator will have the time to do so. This builds confidence, self-esteem, and communication skills – all vital for a successfully literate life.

As the world celebrates Literacy Day, what is your message or call to action for everyone?

Being literate is not a given, even in today’s world – those of us who have been able to learn to read, write, and communicate have huge advantages over those who haven’t. Literacy is also something that we can work on throughout our lives. Volunteering with Action tutoring is a great way to celebrate the privilege of literacy – by helping young people to build on what they can already do, equipping them with life-enhancing powers of communication and self-expression.

Building a more literate world

There have been significant strides in promoting literacy worldwide with many countries having improved its levels through enhanced access to education and innovative teaching methods. However, there’s more work to be done. 

Additionally, the digital age has ushered in a new era of the subject. Digital literacy is now as crucial as traditional reading and writing skills. It involves navigating the digital landscape and harnessing technology for personal and professional growth.

In a literate world, opportunities are more abundant, voices are heard, and barriers to economic growth are dismantled. Therefore, it’s a shared responsibility to ensure that every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances, has the chance to access the transformative power of being literate. 

Together, through concerted efforts in education and policy, we can create a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

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.