From education to employment

Maths for us

Carol Taylor is director of development and research at NIACE

A couple of months ago NIACE, with a range of other national partners, began to talk about an adult maths initiative that could take a new approach to helping all adults become more enthusiastic about maths and to helping them improve their skills. The need for an initiative like this is urgent.  Almost half of the adult population – according to the Government’s Skills for Life survey – may seriously struggle with many aspects of numeracy.

The idea for the Maths4us initiative was born and – with the support of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – developed using the huge range of expertise from over 20 prominent partner organisations including Transport for London, Booktrust, UKOnline, WI and unionlearn, to ensure that adults see the relevance and benefit of maths to their everyday lives. Having a joined up approach of such strength and reach will provide better value for money. Maths4us has five key messages:

  • Everyone uses maths everyday – and everyone can get better at it.

  • Better maths means you can make your money go further

  • Improving your maths is infectious: children, grandchildren and friends will learn from you

  • The more able and confident you are with maths, the stronger your job prospects

  • Learning maths as an adult is different to how your learnt it at school

So how are we – the Maths4us partnership – going to encourage adults to get enthusiastic about maths? Well, for starters, because of the huge growth of mobile technology and how more and more people are doing things like shopping or banking on their mobile phones, we also have an App Challenge where teams have been invited to develop a new maths app for adults, with funding available for the best and most popular design. We are also asking for examples of useful maths apps people use so we can build a useful database of them so please send details of your favourites to: [email protected].

As people, especially in the workplace, often prefer to learn from their friends or colleagues we, alongside unionlearn and Workbase, have set an ambitious target of training 8,000 Maths Champions. These Maths Champions will help to enthuse others about maths and encourage them to improve their skills through fun methods. There is already backing from many employers, prisons, the Community Learning Champions network, and elsewhere. If you’d like to take the 3 hour training session to become a Maths Champion, you can register your interest here or email us.

And supporting this we will be piloting an online numeracy assessment tool, developing a series of online courses and producing resources and training for parents, carers and early-years workers, with the support of the BBC.

The considerable number of adults who lack both skills and confidence in maths doesn’t only mean people being ripped off by loans, left unsure of the right amount of medication to take or being unable to last until their next pay-day, but it also costs the economy billions. What’s more, if parents and grandparents lack that confidence then it’s highly likely their children will too. While poor maths skills are nothing to be ashamed of they are also nothing to be proud of either. We need to change the culture where some people all too happily admit to being, ‘bad at maths’. Good maths skills can not only mean being able to split the bill in a restaurant, it can mean you get better at budgeting and have more money to spare, you can understand and enjoy sports more and you can start to realise just how much maths plays a major part in improving our everyday lives.

Carol Taylor is director of development and research at NIACE, which encourages all adults to engage in learning

More details about the Maths4us initiative and links to activity are available at


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