The high cost of low numeracy

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5 January 2009: New research published today calculates the total long term public cost of pupils who leave primary school every year with very poor numeracy skills.

every_child_a_chance_trust_logo resizedThe report, published by the Every Child a Chance Trust*, has calculated the ultimate cost to the public purse of the 33,000 eleven year olds who leave primary school every year with very poor numeracy skills – equivalent to those of an average seven or eight year old.

The high cost of low achievement

In 2007, 5.8% of all 11 year olds (33,022 children) left primary school far below the expected national standard in maths – the lowest figure in both percentage and absolute terms for several years. By the time these children reach the age of 37, the study shows that each of them is likely to have cost the taxpayer up to £44,000. Over the whole life of each affected child in this single year, the figures represent a total public cost of £2.389 billion – enough for approximately 78 new schools.

The report arrives at this total by examining the relationship between very poor numeracy skills and ensuing, expensive problems with employment, education, crime and health. In particular, the study quantifies and prices specific consequences of poor numeracy, including:

  • lost tax and National Insurance revenues
  • unemployment benefits
  • lost indirect taxes
  • far greater likelihood of teenage pregnancy
  • much higher risk of teenage substance abuse
  • higher chance of clinical depression
  • special educational needs support
  • adult numeracy classes
  • greater truancy and exclusions
  • increased involvement with the criminal justice system.

The report does not calculate additional costs that could not readily be quantified, such as: social services; social housing; generally poorer health; substance abuse over the age of 18; homelessness; and lost tax on pension income. As a result, the report considers the figures it has identified to underestimate the overall public cost of poor numeracy quite considerably.

Early intervention to ensure that Every Child Counts

The Every Child a Chance Trust has recently launched Every Child Counts, of which SHINE is a founder sponsor. Every Child Counts is an exciting new programme of daily, intensive and individual maths tuition. It follows the massively successful Every Child a Reader programme, which has an incredible track record in achieving lasting improvements to children’s literacy skills.

Every Child Counts trains teachers in inner-city schools to provide structured support to children struggling with maths. A pilot project involving 200 children showed that 73% surprised their teachers by achieving the nationally expected level for their age after just 14 hours of tuition.

Spend a little, save a lot

The report calculated the costs of providing Every Child Counts at £2,582 per child. Taking the figures outlined above into account and working to an assumption that, like Every Child a Reader, this programme will have a 79% success rate, the report estimates that the programme could save taxpayers up to £1.599 billion. As a result, it estimates the overall return on investment for every pound spent on the Every Child Counts programme to be between £12 and £19 over the life of each participating child.

Commenting on the report Sir Peter Williams, Chancellor of the University of Leicester and author of last year’s independent report into the teaching of mathematics in the early years and primary schools, notes: “In our review last year we made clear to government the importance of getting maths teaching right in the primary school, and the impact on individuals and society if we don’t. It may be costly to provide early intervention to tackle children’s numeracy difficulties, but as this new report from the Every Child a Chance Trust makes very clear, such investment will pay for itself many times over in the future.”

*The long term costs of numeracy difficulties, Every Child a Chance Trust, 2009. To download a PDF copy, click here.