When would-be apprentices can’t do basic math

I hadn’t realized how deeply the rot had set into the British education system until I read this report in the Telegraph.

Williams F1 is “frustrated” over the state of education in Britain today after the majority of school leavers applying for its apprenticeship scheme this year failed a basic maths test.

. . .

Of the 250 applications for its apprenticeship scheme this year, 45 were invited to an open day and 16 made it through to the tests round. Just six young people passed, with 10 failing to get more than half the answers right – a failure rate of two-thirds.

In previous years, the company allowed hundreds of applicants to sit maths tests early on in the recruitment rounds, but this led to such a high failure rate the company abandoned the tests until later in the hiring process.

There’s more at the link, including the test questions (below the article).  If you’d like to try them, you’ll find the answers here.  I tried several and had no problem getting them right, the majority of them using mental arithmetic alone!

If British students today can’t handle such simple math problems, something’s drastically wrong with their education system.  Never having attended school in the USA, I can’t say how US students would fare when faced with the same questions.  Would any readers care to hazard a guess from their own experience?



  1. I need my science calculator for the logarithm ones, the rest were easy head math… and I'm not nearly as fast as I was in high school. (Mind you I was two years ahead of my class in junior high, I do have a head for maths).

  2. I blew the log questions. I'm a 64 year old music teacher, and I used to know that stuff, but haven't used it or thought about it in years. Guess I'll have to brush up a little.

  3. I missed the 2 Log questions also. I don't remember dealing with Logs much in High School. Had to resort to paper for 7 others. the rest (6) done in my head. Not too terrible. Now if I only wanted to live in England…

  4. I graduated hs in 2003 in the US, i could do some in my head, some quickly with pencil and paper, and yeah I needed a calculator for the logarithms. But I did them all in about 5 mins and got them right. And I would have been about the same back when I was 16-18.

  5. I graduated HS in 1970 and I was never any good at math. I missed three: both log questions, as I could not remember anything about logarithms; the fraction division question as I read it incorrectly and added instead of divided.

    I didn't find the test particularly difficult; just annoying. Like most math.

  6. It's about what I remember from when I went through public schooling. The advanced students get bored and have no incentive or opportunity to reach as far as they could, and the students who are struggling fall through the cracks. The schools are understaffed, underfunded, over-managed, and stuck teaching to tests that aren't good indicators of real-world skills. Some of us did well, because we wanted to and because our parents wouldn't tolerate slacking off, but a lot of people just skated through doing the minimum required to graduate, which wasn't all that much.

    This would be one of several reasons why we homeschool my 1st grader. During his Kindergarten year, they had one teacher and one classroom aide, and they were handling 32 children with widely varying needs and skills. They teach to the middle, or to the bottom if the kids aren't meeting benchmarks. My son is ahead academically and LOVES math. He was bored stiff "learning" to count and not able to skip a grade, which led to behavioral problems that I had to hound the teachers to find out about and work on at home, and it wasn't going to get better in higher grades.

  7. I duped my mother into letting me skip a grade, the introduction to serious math. My reason was simple-I hated math, was trying to learn English and French because I spoke German and had to do catch up. That stupidity followed me my entire life, until at 36 I began JC with the sole purpose of learning math! When upset or stressed, I will pull out my Algebra book and work. Math is the single "instrument" in life that will not change. Numbers are a constant, and only change way down the road of figures, where I have not yet been.
    How sad that so many have this fear of numbers, because as Niall Ferguson pointed out that poverty is due to ignorance of the management of money – which is all about numbers.

  8. Back in '81 or '82 we had 2 graduates from Fairfax Co. schools in our shop. Totally incapable of adding or subtraction fractions. Didn't know relation between frictional and decimal measurements.
    Lasted a few months doing skut work.
    Things have gotten worse in the past 30 years.

  9. Graduated from High School in '70 could do all of it in my head except the logs. I had to pull the calculator out for them. Youngest daughter graduated from HS 2 years ago and took an on-line College Algebra course for her senior math class. All of those problems are standard fair except for logarithms by eighth grade in KS.

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