From education to employment

Unlocking economic growth by levelling up maths skills

Alex Glasner

40% of the people that Workpays support do not have any qualifications whatsoever; in fact, in the whole of the UK, there are 16 million people – or half the working-age population – who have numeracy levels of a primary schooler.

The impact that this has on people’s lives, their livelihoods, and the UK’s economy ability to compete is, ironically, perhaps too large to compute, although it is currently costing us at least 1% of GDP. It is important that the government works with training providers, such as Workpays, the organisation of which I am one of the directors, to ensure that everyone in the UK has at least the most basic skills needed. Without ‘levelling up’ our country’s maths skills, we will never be able to level up the country in whole.

The national and individual impact of missing maths skills

Both the UK and each of us individually are impacted by poor numeracy skills.

On a nationwide level, the country is falling behind. According to the Bank of England Chief Economist, “Levels of numeracy across the UK are low by international standards and are getting worse over time, posing big costs on individuals, economies, and societies.” When only 20% of the working population has the numeracy of a GCSE pass, we understand why we are behind countries like Japan, the Netherlands, Australia.

Put simply, the UK cannot hope to compete in new industries if these levels do not improve. And the data suggests that our maths skills are not improving at all: according to Kings College London, it is the UK’s younger working-age population that is the least numerate.

On an individual level, this is not only impacting whether people succeed at work, but people’s everyday lives. Without good maths skills, young people are more likely to face a life of chronic unemployment.

What makes this all the worse is the uneven impact this is having across the country. At Workpays, we support many people who are the furthest away from the job market; we witness the impact that a lack of numeracy skills is having first hand, every day.

Frustrating for us is the huge disadvantage gap between the richest and the poorest in the UK. Again, on a national level, the situation in the UK is twice as bad as some of the best performing countries in the world.

On a very personal level, too, it cannot be right when people in the UK who are more disadvantaged are 17.5 months behind their non-disadvantaged peers in maths. In secondary schools, we are making no improvement and, ignoring even the moral issue that this raises, it is costing everyone on a very real and deep level.

Levelling up maths: how do we proceed?

Workpays are doing what we can to help adults, both young and old, to gain the skills they need to succeed; not only for a job, but for a career and for their day-to-day lives. We know that programmes are more effective when numeracy is embedded with subject-specific content and made relevant to those who are learning.

This is why we work with employers to make our courses are as relevant as possible. We know that numeracy that is accessible is numeracy that is learnable and focused around our learner’s own experiences. This is why we have introduced our ‘Monday Maths’ challenges, which bring alive, in very real ways, how maths impacts our daily lives. We also know that confidence is a key issue. This is why we make maths both fun and practical; easy to understand; and easy to solve with help by our great functional skills tutors, such as Rachael in Derby. We will continue to work hard, through the government schemes such as the upcoming Multiply funding, to develop and teach courses that improve the lives of everyone in the communities we serve.

With companies like ours working in this way, it’s a start, but it is not enough. There is much more to do to ensure the UK’s maths ability helps us all achieve our full potential. If your business can support in driving this change, I’d love to chat with you.

By Alex Glasner, Managing Director at Workpays

Related Articles