Numeracy decline sparks concern

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A sharp decline in numeracy among Scottish primary pupils, along with a lack of progress in the early years of secondary, has sparked concerns among opposition politicians and teaching unions about the state of the new curriculum.

Scotland’s second National Numeracy Survey, which involved 10,561 pupils, showed that the percentage of children in the fourth year of primary who were performing either “well” or “very well” fell to 69 per cent in 2013 from 76 per cent in 2011.

In P7 the same category dropped to 66 per cent from 72 per cent, and in secondary the percentage of pupils deemed to be doing “well” or “very well” was unchanged over the two surveys at only 42 per cent.

The survey has confirmed two trends: a widening of the attainment gap between children from wealthier and poorer areas of Scotland, and a fall in achievement levels once pupils start secondary school.

Dr Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, has promised to expand a numeracy hubs programme, which now has six centres, with an extra £1.2 million.

“The picture that emerges in these figures is one of very few pupils at P4 or P7 not working within the expected level, yet there is a clear issue by S2,” he said. “Pupils who come from the poorest households are lagging well behind those who come from wealthier backgrounds.”

Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s education spokeswoman, said the figures were a wake-up call for the SNP government. “We can’t be complacent and we can’t let this deterioration continue.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the figures showed the need for more support and resources to embed Curriculum for Excellence at primary level.

“One area which clearly needs to be looked at is the transition from primary to secondary, and that needs both sectors to work together,” he said.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, also said the situation was worrying. 

“Many of our members complain of poor attainment levels in numeracy being demonstrated in S1. It is always difficult to capture this kind of perception, but I think we have something here of which we need to take full recognition.”

The data around the influence of poverty and deprivation on numeracy attainment would be particularly alarming for the Scottish government, he added.


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