Numeracy in the subject areas


Many courses require learners to acquire and apply numeracy skills of various kinds, for example:

  • catering courses require learners to be able to weigh accurately, to calculate quantities and proportions, to calculate costs;
  • woodwork, metalwork and construction courses require learners to understand and accurately use linear measurement, to calculate area, to calculate costs of materials, to estimate the cost of a particular job;
  • horticulture and agriculture require learners to be able to carry out a range of calculations – what quantities of seeds, plants, fertilizer are needed for a given area; what area should a farm building be if it is to accommodate a given number of animals in accordance with regulations?
  • interior design, fashion and furnishings courses require similar skills of measuring, estimating, calculating, costing.


Learners need to be skilled at the practical, applied numeracy needed for the job. They need to be able to read and understand the mathematical symbols and language that arise in your subject area; to be able to make appropriate records of their own calculations, costing or measurements; and to decide what degree of accuracy is essential for the particular purpose.

  • Check whether learners understand the relevant maths terminology and signs  they may meet in your subject area (for example, plus, minus, division, multiplication, equals and all their synonyms). Teach or reinforce these as you would other terminology related to your course content.
  • Recognise that many learners may have bad memories of maths learning.  Some ways to reduce learners’  fear of maths are:
  • Be patient and take time to explain concepts using different examples and language.  Allow learners time to think and to discuss possible solutions to any maths problems before seeking their responses.  Discussion encourages reasoning and understanding; it encourages collaboration; it erodes the notion that the teacher alone has the expertise, and helps learners to see how much they already know and understand, and how much they can learn from one another. 
  • Highlight relevant examples of numeracy as they arise in the vocational skills work or the subject content.
  • Use higher level questioning in relation to number problems that arise in the course. Instead of asking “What is …[the answer]?” , try to ask more searching questions that encourage reasoning and visualisation; for example:  “When else might you use …?”  or  “Can you suggest times when this might not be the best way to solve this problem?’
  • Create an atmosphere in which learners feel safe to make mistakes.  Mistakes should be seen as valuable ways to learn, showing misconceptions that learners and teachers can rectify together, without fear of embarrassment.
  • Help learners to view their subject or vocational area through ‘maths eyes’.  Help reinforce the relevance of maths to the particular subject area and also to the learners’ everyday lives.  Ask learners to notice when they and others are using maths in their activities inside and outside the centre.  Do the learners have to fill in grants or allowance claims or other such forms?   Do they need to write their own timetable or to keep to one already drawn up?  Encourage learners to observe the maths embedded in their subject, in their recreation activities and in the work of the administration, catering and other staff in the centre.  See for more on real world mathematics.