Catherine Burnet

What kind of future do we really want for Scotland’s next generation of talent? It’s a profound question with a vast array of answers and possibilities.

The rapid rise in disruptive technology combined with growing political and economic uncertainty is creating a confusing combination of views about what exactly lies ahead for our country. Equally, it has laid the foundations for every one of us to speak up and highlight the steps we believe are important to ensure Scotland remains competitive, sustainable and successful in the future, without leaving anyone behind.

Historically, we’ve valued national success based purely on economic output, believing that the ‘drip-down’ approach will result in benefits for every one of us. While a flourishing economy is undoubtedly good for the country, we need to face the reality of the social mobility challenge in Scotland, and ensure we all work harder to create a more level playing field for everyone in society.

Tackling income inequality has become an increasingly important policy focus for political parties of all colours, with the introduction of initiatives including the living wage, but what if we addressed some of the root causes of the issues? Education could and should play a greater role in delivering positive change.

The value of our country’s rich history in education cannot be understated. We have developed a global reputation for our institutions and our emphasis on knowledge. But, if we are to guarantee that status for the next generation, we need to ensure that education in all aspects – including the basic skills needed to equip any successful economy – are available to all.

Numeracy is rarely a subject area that grabs much of the spotlight. There’s often an assumption that we all have, at least, the basic number skills to get through life without any real challenge. But, research conducted by Ipsos MORI, on behalf of KPMG and the charity National Numeracy, paints a different, more troubling picture.

Our team conducted extensive research, involving people of all ages and backgrounds throughout Scotland. Of those interviewed, only 17% - who took a set of five numeracy test questions - achieved the level roughly equivalent to a National 5 pass. The poor results reflected a wider negative attitude about the importance of numeracy, with one in four people in Scotland thinking most jobs no longer require any number skills.

The data highlights a worrying slip in numeracy standards in Scotland, but I’m glad to report that attitudes and approaches to the problem are changing. The Scottish Government has thrown its support behind a raft of initiatives designed to get people interested in improving their numeracy skills. Momentum is building with business, third sector and political leaders sharing a passion to address the challenges, but, a transformation will not happen overnight. Half of the people in Scotland we interviewed told us they would be proud of their child if they developed strong reading and writing skills at school. Only 13% said the same about maths.

Earlier this month, Maths Week saw a raft of events take place across Scotland, all of them focused on one aim – to get young people more engaged and involved in a subject that’s playing an increasingly vital role in our digital future. During the week KPMG volunteers played numeracy games with children from four primary schools in Glasgow to help develop their maths skills in a fun and engaging way. Meanwhile, earlier this year, KPMG continued its support for another initiative - National Numeracy Day - designed to raise awareness of the scale of the problem and offer practical advice and assistance for anyone interested in starting their journey towards improved numeracy. I’m proud to report that 25,000 people signed up for support in the last twelve months. Throughout 2019, we’re hoping to reach an even greater number of learners.

With significant economic and political uncertainty ahead, now is the time for business, political and third sector leaders to build on the journey we have already started, and work together to equip everyone with the skills required to create a more equal, resilient, growth-hungry, and future-fit Scotland.

Catherine Burnet chairs KPMG in Scotland.