You may be aware that we are marking National Numeracy Day today. To you, it may seem like a nice opportunity for schools to have some fun maths based activities or even just for maths teachers to try and persuade less-than-enthusiastic students that maths is interesting. The reality is that National Numeracy Day is something much bigger, and much more important, than a simple opportunity to have a bit of fun.

Promoting numeracy isn’t about schools working with students to pass exams. Promoting numeracy is about tackling the issue that those who are innumerate – lack basic numeracy skills – will face a massive number of challenges as they head into adulthood. According to government statistics, 49% of the adult population of the UK have the numeracy level we would expect of a primary school child. In real terms, the average cost to these people per year is £460 but, for many, it is much higher.

Numeracy is not the same as the study of mathematics in the same way that literacy is not the same as the ability to analyse grammar and syntax in an English lesson. Numeracy is having the skills to perform mathematical tasks such as working out percentages in order to scale up or down a recipe when cooking for your family, or being able to calculate how much of a difference to your disposable income a planned Council Tax increase will make. To be numerate, you don’t have to be able to do this as mental arithmetic, being able to do it with a pen and paper, a calculator or even on your phone is fine. It’s about being able to perform the sums that you need to stay on top of all aspects of your life!

Surprisingly, as we have made headway as a nation in increasing the number of literate adults in this country, our number of innumerate adults has actually increased. Being innumerate is far harder to spot than being illiterate so it is often not picked up in places where adult illiteracy is such as Job Centres. This means that it is far less likely that adults who need support with becoming numerate will be directed to the help they need.


What can we do?

  • Challenge negative attitudes: If you hear someone saying, “I just can’t do maths”, don’t let it slide! The attitude that maths is something that some people ‘just can’t do’ is unhelpful. They might struggle with some parts of maths but we all struggle with things we are learning, and in the end, we get past it. Remind them they just need to keep trying and they will get there in the end!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help: If you know that you are struggling with a particular maths skill, no matter how old you are, ask someone. If you don’t have anyone you can ask, there are plenty of online resources which explain key numeracy skills in understandable and relevant ways.
  • Never assume: All too often, we assume that people will be numerate but the statistics show that almost half of all people aren’t. If you know someone else is going to need to do some maths for you, just check to make sure they are clear on how to tackle it. Many people will be relieved that they’ve been given the chance to ask for support!
  • Share resources and support: The charity National Numeracy (who founded National Numeracy Day) have loads of amazing resources which are designed to support people to become numerate. There are plenty of National Numeracy Day activities which are targeted at adults as well as children so anyone who you think will benefit from it can find something right for them.