Numeracy Skills

See also: Percent Calculators

Numeracy Skills Count

Improved numeracy skills lead to better paid jobs, greater well-being and a less stressful life.

Numeracy skills are not just for scientists, accountants and the tax man. Many professions and vocations require at least a basic level of understanding when it comes to numeracy and mathematics. Take some time to develop your numeracy skills - it's never too late to learn.

Chris Humphries, founding Chair of National Numeracy, talking to the BBC said:

It is simply inexcusable for anyone to say ‘I can’t do maths.’”

He continued to suggest that many people cannot get jobs because they struggle to read graphs and interpret documents, while plumbers, for example, may find it difficult to do the necessary calculations to install a boiler and as a result lose income.

Careers New Zealand suggests that basic numeracy, needed for the workforce, should include:

  • Counting quantities for a customer.
  • The use of percentages and subtraction when giving a discount.
  • Using division when calculating costs per head.
  • Measuring the area of shapes.
  • Calculating fuel consumption.
  • Understanding tables in reports and interpreting graphs.

It may come as a surprise that almost half of the working-age population (17 million) of England have numeracy skills equivalent to those expected for an 11-year-old child.

This problem is not unique to England or the UK.

In a study in Australia, business leaders were asked how poor numeracy affected their businesses.  Over three-quarters of respondents said that their businesses were affected with almost 40% reporting a moderate to high effect.

In the USA, two-thirds of all 13–14 year olds, and over half of 9–10 year olds,  scored below the level regarded as ‘proficient’ for their age group on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2019.

Poor numeracy is a huge problem that affects people and organisations in ways that are not immediately obvious.

Adults with poor numeracy skills are twice as likely to be unemployed than those who enjoy some competency in numeracy.  Those adults with at least basic numeracy skills can expect to earn a quarter more than those who lack the necessary skills to solve basic mathematical problems.

Those with poor numeracy skills are less likely to be able to save money on day-to-day affairs, like a visit to the supermarket.

They are also less likely to be able to find or negotiate the best deals on financial products and therefore more likely to pay higher levels of interest on higher levels of debt. It is well documented that debt problems can lead to stress and/or depression. Between a third and a half of people with poor numeracy skills have a desire to improve them but less than 4% have actually attended any numeracy classes.

Develop Your Numeracy Skills

At SkillsYouNeed we believe that everybody has the ability to master basic numeracy.

We also believe that understanding basic numeracy and mathematics will make a huge difference in all aspects of your life: it will make you more employable, help you achieve a greater understanding of the world around you, save you time and money and may even improve your well-being and reduce stress.

Through clear descriptions, discussion and examples we hope to give our readers a fundamental knowledge of 'Functional Numeracy'.  Our mission is to develop a library of informative, easy-to-follow guides covering the basics of functional numeracy skills - maths you can use every day.

We don't all need to be great mathematicians, and we're not all rocket scientists, but an understanding of the basic principles of day-to-day numeracy, arithmetic and maths will open many doors.

You may want to start by reading our page on Numbers: Introduction to Numeracy. This explains some of the fundamentals needed to understand numeracy, and how numbers work. Our page on special numbers and concepts takes this a bit further, explaining about different types of numbers such as prime numbers, and squares and square roots.

For more definitions, you might like our Maths Glossary, which explains some common mathematical symbols and terms. We also have a page on systems of measurement.

The numeracy skills pages are split into several sub-sections:

  • The section on basic arithmetic will help you to learn how to use the common arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).

    These pages provide tips and tricks to help solve common problems, such as working out the best deals on products and services, planning a household budget and working out your share of a restaurant bill. There is also more of this in our page on Real World Maths. Our page on positive and negative numbers extends these ideas beyond zero.

    This section also has a page on the order of operations (BODMAS). This describes what to do when you have more than one operation, such as 3+3×2.

  • The section on essentials of numeracy applies these concepts to more complex situations

    It describes how to work with Fractions, Decimals, Ratio and Percentages (including Percentage Change). There is a page of percentage calculators to help you out with some of these more complicated calculations. This page also explains how fractions and percentages are related.

    You may also need to work with time, so there is a page on Calculating with Time. We also have a page on Estimation, Approximation and Rounding, a very useful real-world skill to help you work out whether your answer is ‘about right’. The concept of approximation is particularly useful for Mental Arithmetic.

  • Geometry is an important area of maths dealing with shapes and space

    This section provides an introduction to geometry, from some of the simplest shapes and concepts, right through to much more complex ideas.

    It explains about points, lines (one-dimensional shapes), planes (two-dimensional shapes) and solid shapes (in three dimensions). Each of these is discussed in detailed pages, starting with Cartesian coordinates, used in maps, and polar and spherical coordinates, used to describe location on a shape like a globe.

    When working with shapes, you need to understand about Angles, as well as both two-dimensional shapes (Polygons) and Three-Dimensional Shapes. Circles and curved shapes have very particular properties. Our pages on Calculating Area, Perimeter and Circumference and Volume also relate to shapes. There is a handy reference sheet on all three.

  • The section on data analysis provides information about statistics—from the basic up to more advanced techniques.

    Data science and analytics is increasingly important in corporate and government decision-making. More and more, we need to understand at least the basics about data and analysis, so that we can understand how decisions are being made about and for us.

    This section of the numeracy pages provides information about both simple and far more complex ideas.

    Graphs and charts are used to help us visualise data: to make a picture from numbers. Good graphs can explain concepts in an instant—and if you need to use graphs, you may also like our page on Presenting Data.

    Graphs are the first step towards statistical analysis, and our page Simple Statistical Analysis explains more. It discusses some simple ways of assessing data, such as ‘spread’, which explains how widely data are distributed over the whole measurement scale. Another way is ‘location’, such as average. There is more about this in our page on Averages which covers mean, median and mode.

    Other useful concepts in statistics include the various different types of data, correlations (or relationships), statistical distributions, and significance and confidence.

    At a more advanced level, you may need to develop and test hypotheses, or carry out multivariate analysis. At the very least, it may be helpful to understand what someone else has done!

  • The section on more advanced mathematical concepts introduces algebra and trigonometry.

    Many people believe that algebra and equations are beyond them. However, this section of SkillsYouNeed shows that this does not have to be the case. Our page on Algebra introduces the concepts, and shows that equations are not rocket science. There is more about particular types of equations in our page on Simultaneous and Quadratic Equations.

    Other areas of maths that are sometimes seen as ‘dark arts’ are Trigonometry, Probability, and Set Theory. However, in practice, all three can be unpacked relatively simply.

  • The final section on numeracy explains how maths is useful in the real world, and particularly in managing your money

    Our page on Real World Maths provides a general answer to the question ‘Why do I need to know about maths anyway?’

    This idea is expanded in our pages on managing your money. The page on Budgeting will show you how to use maths to help you plan to live within your means. Pages on Loans and Savings and Understanding Interest will help you to understand why your bank would prefer you to take out a loan than save up for something you want—and why it might pay you to do the opposite!

Free Numeracy Challenge

National Numeracy Challenge

Find out where you are with everyday maths and the areas that need further development with The National Numeracy Challenge.

Use the unique SkillsYouNeed access code syn1 and take the challenge free of charge.