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Wednesday, July 8, 1998 Published at 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK

Education: Features

The drive for greater numeracy

Girls do slightly better in tests than boys

Tackling numeracy and literacy have been a key commitment from the government since taking power.

In the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, the government made clear the view that more time was needed to get back to the basics of primary education.

The United Kingdom has fallen behind many other developed countries in numeracy. According to the Basic Skills Agency as many as one in three secondary school children and one in six adults has difficulty mastering the basics in literacy and numeracy. In 1997, there were more than 300,000 adults receiving help with literacy and numeracy, more than half attending further education colleges.

[ image: Back to basics]
Back to basics
The government have decided they must turn this situation around so from September, primary schools will have more time to concentrate on the essential basic skills embodied in a 'core curriculum' of English, mathematics, science, and information technology.

This will allow them to spend at least an hour a day on literacy and - from the following year - numeracy. Primary schools will not have to follow the prescribed programmes of study in the six non-core National Curriculum subjects of design and technology, history, geography, music, art and physical education.

The government have set challenging national targets for the performance of 11 year olds in English and maths. By 2002, the government expect 75 per to reach the standards expected for their age in maths. In 1996 fewer than two thirds did so. In 1997, 62% of 11 year olds reached level 4 in mathematics - the level which should challenge them - and 36% achieved only level 3 or below.

In addition, the government is funding 51 pilot summer numeracy schools throughout England, the aim being to improve 11 year olds' performance over the summer holidays before they start secondary school. Children will receive 50 hours of extra tuition. The schools follows the pilot schools set up to tackle literacy last summer.

Task force established

The numeracy task force was set up by the Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett, in November 1997. It is composed of senior figures from industry and business, training bodies, Training and Enterprise Councils, trade unions and other educational experts.

It was set up to advise on a national skills agenda aimed at tackling a crucial issue for the economic success of the country. David Blunkett said: "I am also determined that we have in place a first class education and training service producing a highly skilled and educated working population."

The task force made its preliminary report on 21 January 1998, recommending that there should be a greater emphasis on:

  • regular oral and mental work;
  • between 45 minutes and an hour every day for maths in all primary schools;
  • home work guidance to help parents play an active role in their child's education;
  • a comprehensive training programme for head teachers, governors and maths co-ordinators, a pilot programme of summer numeracy schools and;
  • an action plan developed by all primary schools including targets for improvement.

The full membership of the numeracy task force is:

Chair: David Reynolds
Professor of Education, University of Newcastle

Martin Armstrong
Deputy Head Teacher, Marlwood School, South Gloucestershire

Margaret Brown
Professor of Mathematics Education, King's College, London

David Burghes
Professor of Education, Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching, University of Exeter

Margaret Dawes

Patricia Petch
Chair, National Governors Council

Carol Robinson
Head Teacher, William Ford Primary School, Barking and Dagenham

Chris Robson
Professor of Pure Mathematics, University of Leeds

Anita Straker
Director, National Numeracy Project

Anne Waterhouse
Inspector/ Advisor, Lancashire County Council

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