Education news

Maths Week London helps kids overcome maths anxiety

London’s kids combat maths anxiety in Maths Week London, endorsed by TV presenters and maths whizzes Johnny Ball and Bobby Seagull

Thousands of London schoolchildren will take time out from their lessons this week 10th-14th June to take part in a series of fun activities designed to dispel maths anxiety.

Children from John Ball Primary school in Lewisham take part in a city-wide online maths competition as part of Maths Week London which Pic by David McHugh

Around 500 primary and secondary school pupils across key stage 1-3 are involved in Maths Week London, supported by children’s learning platform Sumdog and the Mayor’s Fund for London, and designed to spark curiosity in the subject.

On top of a city-wide online maths competition, activities will focus on day-to-day maths use such as running market stalls, interacting with a “mathmagician” show and challenging parents and teachers in times table quizzes.

The week has been organised in a bid to change perceptions about the subject. A half of all UK adults have been found to have numeracy levels no higher than an 11-year-old, according to charity National Numeracy, and last summer government figures showed one in four pupils did not achieve the lowest pass – a grade 4 – in GCSE maths.

Maths Week London launches against a background of acute shortages in maths teachers across the city. According to the Education Policy Institute, only 80% of placement targets for maths teachers were filled in 2018 and in London only 56% of maths teaching hours were taught by a maths specialist.  

Two celebrated TV mathematicians have endorsed London Maths Week and its aims. Veteran children’s TV presenter Johnny Ball, loved by millions of youngsters in the 70s and 80s for shows like Think of a Number and Think Again, said: “We need to inspire children with maths and teach them to apply it to the world around them.  Maths teachers are tied by what the national curriculum tells them to teach and can’t use their expertise and love of the subject to show how maths can be fun and engaging. Thanks to government policy, primary age children spend hours on times tables and straight numeracy which are never going to make maths interesting. Small children need more dedicated time to enjoy using numbers. If teachers had more freedom, they could teach what the government wants and then leave time for more creative and engaging activities to spark children’s interest. But the curriculum and continual tests mean that doesn’t happen, even though teachers are keen and children are capable of so much more.

TV presenter and maths teacher Bobby Seagull added: “After people leave school, many adults find that their numeracy skills decline and we are in a situation nationally where nearly half of all adults have the numeracy skills we would expect from an 11 year old. The National Numeracy charity have shown that questions like working out what a 5% increase on a £9 hourly rate would stump 50% of adults. This is a tragic situation but events like Maths Week London can help engage parents, students and adults. Maths is everywhere and a positive mindset towards it can help to change attitudes and outcomes. Particularly in our capital city, adults need competent numerical skills to help them navigate the complexities of life. Maths Week London is hopefully the first step in the right direction for our capital’s approach to numbers.”