'Can I get 189 in 3 darts?'

Minister Phil Hope makes arithmetic gaffe as he uses world darts championship to promote basic numeracy. Shekhar Bhatia reports

Skills minister Phil Hope took on darts legend Bobby George to highlight the importance of maths - but ended up getting his own sums wrong.

He competed against the former number one at last week's world championships to promote the Government's new "Get On" campaign, designed to lure adults onto basic skills courses.

With his left hand, he managed to get all his darts on the board - a case of a government target being met under pressure.

But as the contest reached its finale, with the professional well ahead, Mr Hope was seen doing his own calculations and then was heard asking Mr George if he could win with his next three darts.

This was despite the fact that the minister still needed 189 when the maximum finish with three darts is 170 (two treble 20s and a bull).

Mr Hope, without any briefing from his spin doctors, said it showed that anybody could make mathematical error and this proved why his new campaign to promote basic skills was so important.

"My darts is not awfully good. I just made a mistake in asking if I could get out when I still needed 189.

"That was mathematically impossible and slightly embarrassing. My maths isn't that bad, I think that was just the pressure under the lights.

"But if I could just point out that, if you haven't got your maths as tuned as it should be, you can make mistakes. If a darts player makes mistakes, they can lose the game."

A report by the Government and the British Darts Organisation revealed that almost half of all players have lost games due to miscalculations.

With the popularity of darts growing and the BBC scheduling hours of live transmission, the Government decided to use the game to make the point that help for the millions who had maths difficulties was on offer.

Around 1,500 "gremlin" masks were distributed to darts fans at Frimley Green's Lakeside complex last week during the world championship to publicise how innumerate adults could exorcise their demons.

The "Gremlin" characters will be familiar to those who have seen the Government's basic skills advertisements on television.

Over the coming months, the Department for Education and Skills will send out DVDs and videos promoting the campaign as well as operating a free telephone line giving more details of the courses.

Mr Hope told FE Focus: "This is a really important campaign. Nearly 15 million adults in this country don't have a maths qualification or the ability you would expect of an 11-year-old.

"Since the campaign started, we have had more than 1.25 million people who have now taken up maths courses and 500,000 have actually got a qualification.

"There is no stigma attached and people are not alone."

Sir Claus Moser's report on literacy and numeracy in 1999 estimated that nearly 7 million adults had problems with basic reading, writing or maths.

The Government launched the Skills for Life strategy in 2001 with the aim of improving the skills of 2.25 million by 2010 - a target it still expects to achieve, although colleges have reported they are struggling to recruit enough suitably trained lecturers for the task.

So far, a million adults have gone on to get their first basic skills qualification.


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