MP ‘desperately sad’ over numeracy and literacy failings

Poor adult numeracy and literacy levels in England and Northern Ireland were the subject of a House of Commons debate.

It was prompted by findings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which warned of some of the highest proportions of adults scoring at or below level one — the lowest possible level — in numeracy, where adults can only perform basic mathematical processes.

It stated: “In fact, 24.1 per cent of adults, around 8.5 million people, scored at that level, compared to the average [among participating countries from across the world] of 19 per cent.”

Tory MP Caroline Dinenage (pictured), who secured the Commons debate on Thursday, said: “I am angry, frustrated and desperately sad that we have failed so many generations over this issue.”

The OECD report further indicated that around 16.4 per cent of adults, or around 5.8 million people, in England and Northern Ireland scored at level one or below in literacy, which is closer to the average of 15.5 per cent of adults among all participating countries.

At level one in literacy, adults can only read brief information on familiar topics.

England was also the only country surveyed where the oldest age group (55 to 65) had higher proficiency in literacy and numeracy than the youngest group (16 to 24).

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock told fellow MPs: “It was a shocking report and it will reverberate down through the education debate in Britain for many years.

“I hope it will persuade many who are sceptical or resistant to the reforms being put in place to come onside and support more rigour, and support stronger maths and English within schools.”

He also announced the launch of a programme to produce more FE maths teachers. It is understood the programme would involve the retraining up to 600 existing FE teachers by the end of the current academic year.

They would cater for thousands of extra pupils now expected to have to study maths at college because they had failed to achieve at least a C grade for GCSE, or equivalent qualification.

“Of course, good teaching of English and maths requires good English and maths teachers, so we are today announcing new Department for Education support for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Maths to develop a maths enhancement programme to upskill existing teachers of maths in further education,” added Mr Hancock.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman said there would be no easy solutions to improving numeracy and literacy.

He said: “It is something that has evaded all governments from all parties for a considerable length of time.”

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  1. I share some Caroline Dinenage’s opinions. Whilst ‘the system’ can and must take responsibility, there is also some responsibility here for individuals.
    The UK economy is only just starting to cease decline and return to growth; growth in products and services for both domestic and international markets sold and delivered through people. How can we really lead the way as a developed western economy without a significant improvement in the most basic of business/work skills (literacy and numeracy) in our people?
    Sticking plasters on the underlying issues once people have left statutory education seems to have had minimal impact, perhaps we should put more focus on the 11-16 years and trial a minimum ‘leaving’ attainment – if you don’t attain you can’t leave approach….? Just a thought.

  2. Tharini Ravishanker

    Typical of our government always wanting to blame others never themselves. How about the government take some responsibility and help the disabled or is this too much for them?