Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Young Adults' Poor Numeracy at Odds with Rising GCSE Grades: Fe News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Young Adults' Poor Numeracy at Odds with Rising GCSE Grades: Fe News

Article excerpt

Survey's findings prompt calls for a more practical qualification.

Young adults have lower levels of numeracy than any other section of the population, despite rising grades in GCSE maths, the government- commissioned Skills for Life survey has revealed.

While the proportion of 16-year-olds achieving a good GCSE grade has reached 58 per cent, just 18 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds were assessed at level 2, equivalent to a C or above at GCSE, during the national survey, the first to be carried out for more than eight years.

Among 20- to 24-year-olds, only 16 per cent were assessed at level 2. By contrast, a quarter of 35- to 44-year-olds were assessed at this level, as were a fifth of over-55s, according to the report, which was published in full last week.

The results suggest that even good GCSE results are not properly preparing students to use maths skills in adult life. Carol Taylor, director of development and research at adult education body Niace, said that the experience of the army supports that theory: it found that many recruits had GCSEs but could not pass their numeracy tests.

"What the army would say and some other employers would say is that GCSEs aren't a good proxy for good numeracy skills," she said. "When we try to say that to government, (education secretary) Michael Gove isn't very happy." Numeracy teaching needs to be tied to relevant real-life contexts, she added.

Mr Gove this week said the government is taking action to improve maths teaching in schools. "When it comes to attracting new teachers, we are spending more on mathematics than anything else," he said. "We have recruited more than 300 graduates on Pounds 11,000 bursaries to be maths specialists in primary schools or maths teachers in secondary schools. And we are also raising the bar on the level of numeracy that all new recruits to teaching must have.

"They must now be able to pass a test that is the equivalent of B grade at GCSE maths."

The Department for Education has shown a willingness to support a more practical maths curriculum, funding the charity Mathematics in Education and Industry to develop a post-16 qualification based on the ideas of Sir Timothy Gowers, professor of mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge.

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education has also published a strategy to increase the post-16 study of maths, and is encouraging awarding bodies to develop realistic, problem-solving maths courses.

Mike Ellicock, chief executive of new maths charity National Numeracy, questioned whether the government needs to go further, perhaps by offering two GCSEs in maths, as is the case with English language and literature: one based on real-life contexts and another on "pure maths".

Maths teaching is overly focused on simply calculating, Mr Ellicock said, estimating that this takes up 80 per cent of work in schools. …

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