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Masters in Educational Practice: Numeracy learning pack


Numeracy and society


Numeracy in education - the Wales context


As identified in the previous section there have been differences in the national curriculum in Wales and other countries of the UK since devolution. Diversification is becoming greater in terms of numeracy as Wales follows its own education polices including the most recent National Numeracy Framework and tests.

The Learning Country

The Learning Country – A Paving Document, published in 2001, reviewed the impact on education and learning the National Assembly had made over the two years since devolution, and provided recommendations for the future. Measures were taken to reduce the number of young people and adults with low numeracy (p.9) by:

. . . sustain[ing] the strategic approach established for Wales to raise standards of literacy and numeracy – taking full account of the complementary programmes to lift basic skills generally; and with all such programmes in nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools, and post-16 providers obtaining the Strategy Quality Mark by 2004.

Key Skills/Essential Skills

The Key Skills qualifications, introduced in 2000, were identical in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until 2004 when Wales discontinued the test component of the assessment (Key Skills Standards, 2004). Later in 2010, Essential Skills Wales replaced Key Skills. The purpose of this change was to meet the policy aim of ensuring that everyone mastered the skills needed in education, work and life in general by providing a ‘single ladder of progression from Entry Level 1 to Level 4’, i.e. joining together the adult basic skills and the key skills delivered at Key Stages 4 and 5 (Essential Skills Wales, 2010).

Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales - Learning and Progression Routes

The Application of Number Essential Skill is comparable in many ways to the new numeracy component of the LNF in terms of content but was never statutory nor had a test component.

Foundation Phase

The Foundation Phase (external link) was a direct result of The Learning Country and was first implemented in 2004. It identified that ‘Mathematics will be more practical so that children can see how problems are solved and how important mathematics is in their everyday lives’.

Statutory assessment is teacher assessment against the Outcome criteria

It should not be forgotten that the learners who first experienced the Foundation Phase have not yet entered secondary school and the impact of this approach has therefore not been realised in terms of developing skills for employment and adult life.

The Skills framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales

The non-statutory skills framework was introduced in 2008 to address the concerns from employers of the lack of skills in young people and the implications this had on the workforce. It was recognised that specific subject knowledge only, as delivered by the curriculum, did not wholly equip young people with the skills for applying their knowledge to practical situations. Developing Number was one of the four sections of the framework and was based on previous numeracy work in Key Stages 2 and 3. The section on Developing number highlights the dilemma over the definition of ‘numeracy’, its close link to mathematics in the curriculum but the need for it to permeate throughout other subjects. Its structure showed progression through the skill and stressed that although the format showed elements and strands, these were not to be considered to be independent of each other.

Skills framework table
Using mathematical information Calculate Interpret and present findings
Using numbers Using the number systems Talking about and explaining work
Measuring Using a variety of methods Comparing data
Gathering information Recording and interpreting data and presenting findings


The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a survey of the educational achievement of 15-year-olds organised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2006 Wales participated fully in PISA for the first time and in mathematics (external link) the mean score was below the OECD average with the difference being statistically significant. The results in 2009 (external link) saw no improvement and this was a major prompt to the changes initiated by the then Minister for Education and Skills (see Topic 1.5: Numeracy in Wales – the current position).

PISA table
Wales score 2006 2009 Change
Reading 481 476 -5
Maths 484 472 -12
Science 505 496 -9


Changes in learning and teaching promoted by the Aiming for Excellence programme published by Estyn in 2005 reported that:

At key stage 2, and increasingly at key stage 3, teachers are doing better at developing and applying literacy and numeracy skills in subject areas across track pupils’ progress in key skills or have a framework for progression.

Their recommendation was:

3.2 Schools should:

  • improve literacy and numeracy skills as an integral part of the learning process.

However, in 2011, Estyn published a report evaluating the impact of the non-statutory skills framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales at Key Stage 2.  This report identified that few schools used the framework to plan their curriculum, instead planning subjects separately and then identifying opportunities to develop learners’ skills. This report was followed in 2012 by an evaluation of how well secondary schools in Wales used the non-statutory skills framework at Key Stage 3 to plan and deliver improvements in learners’ development of generic skills. Estyn identified that very few schools plan effectively enough how to develop 11 to 14-year-olds’ communication, numeracy and thinking skills across the curriculum. In both reports, Estyn recommended that the Welsh Government should revise the framework in order to provide a more effective starting point for developing a skills-based curriculum.

Most recently, in June 2013, Estyn reported:

We know that many schools have not given as much attention to numeracy as they have done for literacy, but it is vital that schools have clear plans for developing numeracy skills. The plans need to address young people's weak numeracy skills so that they can do mental arithmetic, grasp numerical reasoning and don't have to rely on a calculator.

Basic numeracy is an essential life skill that is needed in most jobs and in managing personal finances. But a majority of pupils struggle to understand how numeracy is relevant to their everyday lives and this needs to be tackled.

Ann Keane, Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales

Estyn will monitor the impact of the LNF on numeracy standards over the next two years.

Activity 1.2

Consider the time period from 2005 to 2013, what Estyn identified and its recommendations. What components and attributes of the various frameworks and curricula do you think have contributed to the development of numeracy in Wales?

Consider the time period from 2005 to 2013, what Estyn identified and its recommendations. What components and attributes of the various frameworks and curricula do you think have contributed to the development of numeracy in Wales?


Essential Skills Wales (2010), Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, Welsh Government. (accessed October 2013)

Review of Qualifications 14–19 (2012), Department for Education and Skills, Welsh Government. (accessed October 2013)

Bradshaw, J., Sturman, L., Vappula, H., Ager, R. and Wheater, R. (2007). Achievement of 15-year-olds in Wales: PISA 2006 National Report (OECD Programme for International Student Assessment). Slough: NFER. (accessed October 2013)

Changes in teaching and learning promoted by the Aiming for Excellence programme 2004–05, Estyn. (accessed October 2013)

PISA (2006), OECD. (accessed October 2013)

Numeracy in key stages 2 and 3: a baseline study – June 2013, Estyn. (accessed October 2013)

External tests scrapped for key skills qualifications (2003) Welsh Government. (accessed October 2013)

Skills framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales (2008), Welsh Government. (accessed October 2013)

The Skills framework at key stage 2, Estyn. (accessed October 2013)

The Skills framework at key stage 3, Estyn. (accessed October 2013)

Useful links

Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales, Implementation Plan and Handbook 2009–2014 (external link)

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