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More Power flows into primary mathematics;Numeracy;Viewpoint;Opinion

Arithmetic is top of the three Rs at National Power. Indeed we worry that 1998 is seeing too much reading and writing and too little numeracy. We also worry that young children are not learning enough mathematics and primary teachers are not getting enough professional training.

Alongside leading companies in Business in the Community, we have put our money where our mouth is. First we sponsored the Government's Numeracy Task Force with KPMG, the accountancy and advisory specialists. Now we are launching the second year of the National Power Numeracy Project to help schools deliver on the new strategy.

Last year we helped more than 350 primary schools, nearly 1,000 teachers and some 30,000 children aged 4 to 11 years. This year we want to do more. Our future is bound up with the skills base developed in schools and we need to be a supportive partner to teachers.

So why did we choose to invest in primary school mathematics? The hard business case was the evidence that United Kingdom average levels of achievement in mathematics were behind competitor nations. Numeracy scores are worse than literacy scores. Primary schools need all the help they can get, especially help with the professional development of teachers and classroom resources.

With the guidance of Business in the Community we set up a system with education business partnerships and training and enterprise councils and targeted the most needy primary schools. We also offered development grants, which encourage further support from local businesses, providing additional resources and mentors to children.

All in all, it's win-win. We are making an effective contribution to schools in building world-class basic skills and helping to tackle underachievement. At the same time, hard-pressed primary schools gain grants for training, volunteer mentors and teaching materials from sustainable business partnership links. And the Government sees its strategy start to make a difference.

How do we help some 200,000 primary school and special school teachers be good mathematics teachers as well as teach other national curriculum subjects? Our project is not going to do it all, but we hope we are providing a quality programme that will help teachers and become a model for other businesses.

Importantly, we are backing the new numeracy strategy, with its emphasis on mental arithmetic and whole-class teaching. We are backing the vision of the government, shifting in resources to primary schools, which set the achievement levels of so many children. We are backing the policy of sustainable local business partnerships which focus resources on clear learning outcomes. And we are backing the professional development of teachers. We will measure the impact of the numeracy project through independent evaluation and try to improve the scheme with the help of teachers.

In our judgment, this is an investment which adds up.

* Sir John Collins is chairman of National Power.

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