Cross-Curriculum Numeracy: Phase 2

So, having swung into action with raising awareness (see my previous story), myself and the rest of the Numeracy Team wanted to know how good our incoming students were at practical numeracy skills. That way, we could assess their needs and also have a way of demonstrating their progress while at college.

First things first - GCSE Maths grade is not a measure of numeracy skills. Too many x's and y's and graphs of functions and whatnot: it's possible to get a C in GCSE maths without answering any of the "real life" worded questions. We needed something they could do on arrival at College, which they could take online (so we didn't have to mark it) and that pitched itself at an appropriate level for College students (MyMaths, with its clipart pictures of funny professors, was just not the thing).

What we found was the National Numeracy Challenge ( It's aimed at adults who want to improve their numeracy skills, it's available online, and it awards Entry, Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates. Getting a Gold is an excellent aspirational target - you have to get 95% on the test! All the questions are in an employment or life skills context and a variety of numeracy skills are used.

At that point, all we had to do was get every student into a computer room long enough to do it and record their scores . . . I'll spare you the semi-nightmarish logistical details, and summarise with "wasn't easy!". Students who scored gold were given a gold Numeracy Champion lanyard to replace their normal College lanyard. Many students found it challenging, but it gave them a much clearer idea of what numeracy is, and how it is different from the wider world of Maths - some of my AS Maths students were quite horrified to find that they weren't Gold medal level at numeracy (yet!).

I highly recommend it, whether it's something you might use at College or just something you might do for your own CPD. Whether you score highly or not, the National Numeracy Challenge will give you a great idea of what the core skills of numeracy are, and that might get you thinking about how they relate to your subject.

That reasoning led us to one of the Numeracy team's most controversial and interesting decisions so far - we made all teaching staff sit the Challenge! Not so we could monitor their results, but rather as part of an INSET. How much better was it for them to grapple with the problems themselves, rather than hear one of us waffle on for an hour about what numeracy is and what skills our students need?

As Aristotle said, we learn by doing - and I think that can be true of staff CPD as well as student learning.

Author Profile

Dave Bartram

Dave Bartram

6th form Maths teacher/cross-college numeracy coordinator. Big on maths/physics/CPD.

12 stories


Emma McCrea Emma McCrea @emmamccrea 2 years ago
Love that you made the teaching staff sit it. Be great to hear about what the staff took from the experince.
Stephen Lockyer Stephen Lockyer @mrlockyer 2 years ago
Great story - I want to have a go myself!
Dave Bartram Dave Bartram @davejb 2 years ago
The Challenge is well worth taking! But I won't lie, giving it to the staff was a controversial decision and many staff were anxious about it, though of course, many approached it very positively (some departments were amazingly competitive, showing off their gold lanyards to their rivals before they had even finished the test!) Even with every effort to reassure them that results weren't being recorded, there was a large fear factor. Which ends up being a microcosm of the whole Numeracy problem nationwide - a lot of people's experiences have led them to be very wary of even having a go at numerical problems.
Liz Allton Liz Allton @lizsaddler 2 years ago
We have shared the challenge with parents, but I do like the ideas of getting staff to do it. If we could record might help with CPD to look at where we need to support staff, especially with the increased numeracy content in courses coming in.
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