Maths is receiving much government attention currently. In April 2023 Rishi Sunak announced his vision for maths to age 18. Underlying his plan is the belief that maths attainment will grow the economy and create better-paid jobs and opportunity. There will be a new expert group leading a review into how best to deliver maths to 18 for everyone, although some will no doubt be pleased to hear that not everyone will be expected to take maths A level!
At the heart of the Sunak plan is his desire to change the anti-maths mindset; the mindset that says it is OK to admit to being bad at maths. He said: “We’ve got to change this anti-maths mindset. We’ve got to start prizing numeracy for what it is – a key skill every bit as essential as reading.”
How Multiply can help
Beyond the age of 18, the government-funded Multiply programme, which offers people aged 19 and over who do not have maths GCSE at grade C or equivalent access to free numeracy courses designed to build confidence, is having an impact. The aim is that these numeracy skills unlock job opportunities which in turn may lead to better wages and even further study. The potential is great, especially if improved numeracy skills give people the confidence to budget, for example, or to help their children with homework.
Parminder Singh Garcha, SRO for the Multiply programme at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) explained why this programme is so important in FE. He said: “It’s estimated that more than half the working age population have primary level maths skills and working with National Numeracy, using the Numeracy Index, we now have data that drills down almost to ward level to tell us who we need to reach and in which areas so that those maths skills can be improved. We have a north/south divide in the Combined Authority, with Fenland and Peterborough where over half of residents (54% for Fenland and 51% for Peterborough) were estimated as having a numeracy skills level of entry level and below.”
Making maths accessible
National Numeracy is a charity dedicated to helping people feel confident with numbers and using everyday maths. It seeks to empower children and adults in the UK to get on with numbers so they can fulfil their potential at work, home and school.
Sam Sims, Chief Executive of National Numeracy, knows that focussing on exams and courses alone won’t work for the millions who struggle with maths at school and college and on into adulthood. “We know a bad experience at school is linked to lower number confidence and attainment,” Sims explained. “So, from early years onwards, we’d like to see the confidence to understand and work with numbers form a central part of maths learning in the UK.
Suzie Dale, Relationship Manager at National Numeracy, works with numerous Local Authorities to boost skills and confidence with numbers. She explained, “CPCA have made this a priority and have supported us with all of our high-profile campaigns to raise awareness and fly the flag for numeracy confidence and skills. They have engaged in activities and used our resources such as the National Numeracy challenge to encourage people to take the first step in their numeracy journey, and to make maths accessible to all.”
CPCA sought to overcome digital barriers by commissioning a Maths Multiple bus to go out and take the Challenge and learning provisions to all. Their partners including Runway Training have created innovative programmes and sessions to highlight the importance of maths and make maths fun.
“As part of our partnership,” Dale said, “we are developing a network of Numeracy Champions across CPCA who are ideally positioned to support residents with numeracy. These Trained champions help to support positive conversations with residents encouraging them to re-engage in maths learning as an adult where otherwise they may not.
“The partnership with CPCA and National Numeracy has been full of passion and with a proactive approach, highlighting how maths impacts everyone and for some it is a barrier to overcome. It's important to recognise the feelings that we attach to maths, and so by joining in a Big Number Natter across CPCA and on social media we can drive the conversation and encourage people to share how they feel.”
CPCA used all available data sources to looked at numeracy and maths data from early years to FE to explore how they could improve maths skills in the area at each phase. Parminder Singh Garcha explained, “We were allocated £4 million by the DfE for the Multiply programme up to 2024/25. Some of this money can be used for outreach provision to help us get the message out about what we are offering and hoping to achieve. We can use the Multiply programme to build engagement and number-confidence and promote the wide range of courses we have on offer.
“In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough we have a real mix of communities with urban and rural, so the learning organisation we use have to be able to determine what is needed on the outreach side and build trust. Short courses are required for specific reasons. For example, financial literacy supporting the cost-of-living, maths for care leavers, for prison leavers, for parents and so on. Rather than prescribing, our providers come up with innovative solutions.”
The need for numeracy
The Multiply programme has helped CPCA to promote FE as a vehicle for lifelong learning. “We can help to facilitate strands for building numeracy skills embedded in the curriculum and right across communities, Parminder Singh Garcha said. “One of the legacies of the Multiply programme could be numeracy champions in many roles in the community. Anyone and everyone can become a numeracy champion. Progression for maths learners will show in the number of enrolments we have on FE maths courses.
For capacity building there is CPD with a numeracy focus for teachers and lecturers, classroom assistants and other staff. There is a lack of maths teachers in FE so we are using some of our Multiply funding to do something about that and helping to embed numeracy right across the curriculum. We are also looking at how we can work with schools.”
“We can measure number confidence by using the NNUK quiz. This gives us a baseline.
We have to keep our maths skills sharp throughout life. We aim to help people to feel positive about numbers and to become a part of the numbers community. It is culturally acceptable to be bad at maths and this needs to shift. We need to normalize lifelong learning in maths. The need for numeracy skills won’t go away so we will always need a skilled numeracy workforce. Workforce development is key.”
Find out more…
- Try the National Numeracy Challenge – a free, tried and tested online tool to help build number skills and confidence for anyone over 13. You can get started in 10 minutes and go at your own pace without pressure: https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/challenge/media
- Join the Big Number Natter: Love it or loathe it, everyone has got something to say about maths! Get your students and staff involved in the UK’s only nationwide conversation about numbers: https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/numeracyday/big-number-natter
- Resources and activities to help people feel good about maths in all aspects of life, created in partnership with real learners, experts and celebrities. Sign up here: https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/numeracyday/signup
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.