Adult numeracy teaching needs to be overhauled so it is less like school maths and more relevant to everyday life, an inquiry by adult education body Niace has recommended.
The inquiry's report Numeracy Counts, which drew on expertise from the Institute of Education and homelessness charity Crisis among others, comes as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) prepares for its own review of basic skills in the summer.
Niace operations director Carol Taylor said that the current basic skills test had led to a culture of teaching to the test, encouraging learning by rote rather than teaching maths relevant to everyday life in a way more likely to engage adults.
She said: "Since the introduction of the basic skills test we have seen teachers who teach to the test, and that's not helpful. They feel they need to do it to meet the targets of the last government."
Success rates in numeracy are low, the inquiry pointed out, with only about half of students on courses contributing to Government basic skills targets gaining a qualification.
Ms Taylor said there was a culture where poor numeracy skills were accepted in a way that literacy problems were not.
"We see being bad at maths as a badge of honour," she said. "No one would dream of boasting that they couldn't read, but many people stand on platforms, write in blogs, appear on radio and television, admit to friends and colleagues, proudly showcasing their inability to handle everyday maths."
The report said that one example of a relevant task might be equipping adults to assess whether the cost of travel to a supermarket further away, which claimed to have lower prices, would wipe out any savings.
Instead of focusing on formal tests of skills and knowledge, the inquiry recommended a system of measuring competence in applying mathematical concepts in real-life numeracy activities.
It also recommended a new way of describing numeracy skills, avoiding comparisons to the skills of an 11-year-old, for instance, which Ms Taylor said was humiliating and off-putting for adults.
And the report proposed that adults with the greatest difficulty with maths should be a priority. "Those with the poorest numeracy skills have barely been touched by Skills for Life," it said.
A BIS spokeswoman said: "Helping adults with poor literacy and numeracy skills is a top priority for this Government and we are committed to offering fully funded literacy and numeracy courses for all those who left school without these basic skills.
"The Government is reviewing the quality of literacy and numeracy skills provision and examining how it equips individuals with the skills they need to get a job and play a full part in society."
- Original headline: Adult numeracy needs to add everyday touch, says Niace