Maths has never been for real life

Ministers and employers are panicking unnecessarily over the perceived poor numeracy skills of school-leavers going into their first jobs ("Maths review put in motion", TES, July 26).

There have probably been headlines about school-leavers' poor numeracy skills since headlines were first written. Brigid Sewell's 1981 research for the 1982 Cockcroft Report, for example, suggested that after three years in secondary school children understood important mathematical concepts very little better than when they left primary school, sometimes even less well.

The idea of changing the curriculum in schools yet again to combat pupils' unsatisfactory mathematical skills once they are at work is not necessarily the answer. In fact, some theorists think that transfer of mathematical learning from schoolacademic contexts to outside situations is questionable.

The Government has just pledged to support a further three years of adult literacy and numeracy programmes, to follow on from the current pound;1.5 billion three-year scheme which runs until 2004.

This includes proposals specifically targeted at the workplace, usually working in partnership with basic skills training providers and unions. It aims to support employees - not only those who fell through the basic skills net at school, but also those who just need to "brush up" - to cope with the changing basic skills requirements of the modern workplace.

It is unnecessary for employers to demand that schools should mend their mathematical ways. They can address the problem sooner and more effectively on their own premises by opening the door to a basic skills provider. In that way, the training their staff receive is relevant to the task at hand and it can be tailored to the needs of the organisation.

What's more, there is no charge, apart from the cost of releasing their workers for the training.

And under a pilot scheme which has just started in six regions of England - Derbyshire, Essex, Greater Manchester, Swindon amp; Wiltshire, Tyne amp; Wear and Birmingham amp; Solihull - companies won't even have to cover the cost of releasing their employees.

Fiona Frank

Director

Workplace Basic Skills Network

Department of Educational Research

Lancaster University

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