In last October's spending review, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced funding for a UK-wide programme to support half a million adults to improve their numeracy skills. The new scheme, called Multiply, is due to launch this spring. It's a parallel initiative to the Government's Levelling Up focus on numeracy in schools, recognising that it's not just children who feel out of their depth when they have to do sums.
The Government's Education Hub defines numeracy as “the ability to understand and use maths in daily life, home and work”, and says people who can improve their ability with numbers are more likely to find better paid work and have a greater sense of well-being. For many individuals, better numeracy can make a real difference. Someone who feels confident about straightforward maths can help with their kids' homework, keep tabs on household spending, understand financial products better and feel more relaxed if they need to use figures at work.
Not surprisingly, the Money Advice Service's 2017 Numeracy Deep Dive report showed a strong link between numeracy levels and financial awareness. People who find numbers challenging don't feel at ease managing their money, often spending on a whim or delaying paying bills. They're also more likely to worry about the basic costs of living – something that will be a genuine problem for many in the coming months. Being less afraid of numbers can help avoid extra anxiety. It doesn't make the pounds stretch further, but it does help keep track.
A positive and important element of the Government's plans for Multiply is that its training will be accessible and flexible. It's intended to fit in with peoples' lives, recognising numeracy as a life skill rather than a subject just for the classroom. We don't have all the details yet, but understand there will be a range of courses and tutoring – part-time or intensive, at work or in the evenings, face-to-face or remote. There will be extra support for those who need it, programmes for employers to use with their staff and a new digital platform too.
Multiply is aligned with Shannon Trust’s belief that nobody should be left out of learning. We understand that school doesn't suit everyone, and this can put people off education as an adult. At the same time, we recognise what an impact better numeracy skills can have. In a 2019 report, our fellow charity National Numeracy said that almost half the UK's working age population had numeracy levels akin to a child at primary school. Shannon Trust have over 20 years' experience working in prisons, where this statistic rises to 60%.
We find that many people who struggle with numbers also find reading difficult, both in prisons and out in our wider communities. This can affect life chances and erode self-belief. We are now rolling out numeracy programmes, which as with our approach to reading, encourage those who are comfortable with numbers to support those who aren't. Mentors offer short sessions away from prison classrooms, so that learners can work informally at their own pace and in a way that works best for them. Long term this helps both learners and mentors turn their lives around. We know our supportive approach, based on a one-to-one relationship, lends itself to those who struggled in the traditional school environment. We are glad the Government recognises that flexible, informal, 'bite sized' training sessions might encourage more people who may have missed out in the past to give learning another try.
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