Report Finds Weak English and Maths Skills Are an Obstacle to Progression at All Levels in the Healthcare Sector

Beyond the Brand is a new Skills for Health report for Health Education England (HEE) on English and maths for career progression in the healthcare workforce.

Report Finds Weak English and Maths Skills Are an Obstacle to Progression at All Levels in the Healthcare Sector

However, in producing the report, Skills for Health found that there were deeper issues.

  • Weak English and maths skills are present in the adult population in England in general. ‘In England, ‘9 million people struggle with basic quantitative reasoning or have difficulty with simple written information’ (Małgorzata, et al. 2016: 9, OECD).
  • Healthcare Employers, HEIs and others suggested this national position is reflected in the sector. They said weak English and maths skills are an obstacle to progression at all levels in the healthcare workforce.
  • There was concern about how English and maths skills are defined, taught and assessed at all levels. And uncertainty about the connection between English and maths qualifications and the everyday use of English and maths at and for work in healthcare.

The report suggests that improvements can be made in the short term and longer term.

By March 2018 Skills for Health will:

  • Connect the sector to Government strategic policy initiatives, designed to improve basic skills in English and maths in England.
  • Examine English and Maths requirements in the healthcare Apprenticeship standards for Senior Healthcare Support Worker and Registered Nurse and describe how these requirements are met in practice – and share examples.
  • Search out practical actions designed to improve basic skills learning in English and maths, at all levels of training and occupation in the sector and share these.
  • Work with HEIs to address the specific issues identified in Beyond the Brand concerning English and maths HEI entry requirements.

In parallel, Skills for Health will involve key institutions in developing a commonly owned longer term strategy for ‘elementary skills’1 in English, maths and science in the sector.

We want to hear views and suggestions from healthcare employers, Health Unions and HE and FE providers – via one of our webinars, in face to face meetings, at conferences and workshops and via email or phone.

Healthcare employers, HE and FE providers, trade unions and other organisations with an interest can register here. You will be kept in the loop as the project develops.

Please note that we are unable to respond to individual requests for help with English and maths. We are planning to provide links to resources and help for individuals and tutors on this page in due course – hopefully by early in 2018.

Finbar Lillis authored Beyond the Brand and is leading on the follow-up work. You can contact him direct with any queries or suggestions here:

Work will focus on English and maths skills for progression but Skills for Health will also ask for contributions from employers and providers on science concepts and procedures and their current thinking on digital literacy.

A final report in March 2018 will outline what needs to be done over the longer term.


1. Basic skills are ‘…elementary skills to read and understand simple texts and master basic mathematical and scientific concepts and procedures…’ Hanushek E., Woessmann, L. (2015: 9,21) Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain. Paris: OECD.


Source: Skills for Health