MATHS – the word strikes fear into the hearts of millions of us, but there’s really nothing to be scared of.
After all, everyone uses maths every day, when it comes to work, paying the bills or helping the kids with their homework.
But if you’ve got painful memories of sitting through maths lessons staring at the board – or out of the window – wishing it all made sense, you’re not alone.
Some 17 million adults in England – half of the working-age population – have everyday maths skills roughly equivalent to those expected of a primary school child.*
Sam Sims, CEO of the national charity National Numeracy, says: “We use numbers in our everyday lives – at home and work. Feeling anxious about maths is completely understandable, but there are so many benefits to brushing up on your numbers, from bagging a bargain when shopping to helping our kids with homework.”
Even if your school days are long behind you, it’s never too late to build your number confidence and skills as an adult learner!
There is a range of qualifications and training out there, including Multiply, a free numeracy programme delivered by local government authorities.
Even a short course can boost your confidence, lead on to further study, improve your number skills at work or help you on your way to unlock job opportunities or higher wages.
With the right teacher, it just clicks
Eve Stout, 23, a learner from County Durham, needed to gain a maths qualification as part of her two-year business support apprenticeship with Durham County Council. She studies one day a week, and works the other four days.
At school, she had found maths difficult. And soon, as she fell behind in the subject, her confidence suffered too.
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“I got the majority of my GCSEs, but obviously maths was not my best subject,” says Eve, who is mum to Bobby, two.
“I found it difficult to get to grips with the subject, especially the more abstract elements. I figured I’m not really going to use pi or need to know the circumference of a circle.
“It might have interested me more if we had been learning about money and things like that, but I just switched off,” she says.
After years of lacking confidence and feeling anxious about maths, Eve discovered she needed maths as part of her apprenticeship.
“By then I’d completely lost any confidence with maths, so it came as a shock knowing I would need to study it again.”
To boost her confidence, Eve received six weeks of one-to-one support from her Multiply tutor, Viviene Wild, who works at Durham County Council. They went over specific areas that Eve recalled struggling with at school.
“Viv was so understanding, as I have dyslexia as well. I’d say, ‘I hate maths, I can’t do it,’ and she’d say, ‘Yeah, you hate maths but you CAN do it. I’m here to help, this is what I do.’
“If I didn’t understand something, she would explain it in lots of different ways until things made sense. She was fantastic – always so patient and supportive.
“Having someone who really made an effort to teach maths in a way that made sense to me, even if she had to try lots of different examples, really made the difference.”
With a young son and a full-time job, finding spare time hasn’t always been easy for Eve, but she says Viv’s flexibility has really helped.
“If I needed to move our meetings or fit in around my family, she was always really understanding and helpful.
“It felt like we developed a real understanding and we were in it together when it came to improving my numeracy – she wasn’t just teaching me, she really cared how I was getting on with it all.”
Multiply gave her the boost and self-belief she needed to take the next step onto a formal qualification.
Now, midway through her Level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) maths course – expected to take between 12 and 18 weeks – she is feeling super positive.
“I’m actually enjoying it! I can ask my Level 2 maths tutor anything – she is fabulous as well – it’s still great to know that Viv has my back.
“If there’s something I want to go over a bit more, I know I can always go back to Viv and say, ‘Viv, can you explain this in a bit more depth?’”
Above all, Eve is looking forward to passing on a can-do attitude to her son.
“One of the reasons why I enrolled on a Multiply programme is because I want to support my little boy, Bobby, with his learning. He’s absolutely obsessed with numbers. I wanted to be in a position to really help him.
“I thought: ‘I need to be able to understand my child’s Year 2 homework.’ Plus, I really didn’t want to pass on to him the idea that maths is hard.”
For Eve, Multiply and Viv’s confidence boosting teaching methods have made all the difference.
“It has just clicked – and now it’s great: I’m helping my son with his maths homework, and I’m learning even more maths as an adult for myself – I’m thrilled.”
…And that adds up to a very happy family.
The right support can take away your fears
Tutor Viviene says it has been wonderful to see the change in Eve’s maths confidence.
“Eve was really enthusiastic and wanted to improve.
“She told me she’d had some bad experiences with maths at school. She didn’t enjoy it, and there are certain things that she’d just never been able to do.
“I use that as my starting position with learners.
“Long division was one of the things Eve struggled with at school, so we started off by tackling that, breaking it down into steps until she totally understood how it worked. Mastering this then gave her more confidence to go further.”
Viviene says teaching adult learners is hugely fulfilling.
“Once they have committed to learn, they are so willing to learn and they really throw themselves into it. Then, once they crack it, it’s such a boost.
“It’s like, if I can do this, what else can I do? I’m obviously more competent than I think I am!
“Eve tells me she’s actually enjoying her maths lessons now, and she didn’t think she’d ever say that. Learners get a lot of pride, and rightly so.”
Not everyone will move on to a formal qualification, which is fine, but they will take away what they need.
“Some people will be happy to complete an introductory course like Multiply and just enjoy being better at everyday maths.
“Others might get the bug, and go on Functional Skills courses or even GCSEs. Whatever you prefer, there’s a course out there for you.
“We work with parents. We work with people out of work, in work, with employers, across the board. We offer the opportunity to come along and learn the methods your children are being taught.
“Personally I think everybody has a different time when they’re more receptive to learning, and that could be in their thirties, fifties, any age.
“It doesn’t matter when, but the good news is that if you improve your numeracy, it has a knock-on effect.
“Your confidence will improve, and even simple things like paying bills and managing your money will all seem easier.”
If you want to improve, there is somebody out there to help you, says Viviene, who was so impressed with Eve’s efforts that she nominated her for an award as Multiply learner of the year.
Adds Viviene: “It’s all about taking that first step. Maths isn’t just for schoolchildren – you can learn it at any age with the right support, and you could even learn to love it.
“Just give it a go and – honestly – you might well surprise yourself!”
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What is Multiply?
Multiply, a government-funded programme, is for anyone who needs a helping hand with numeracy skills and confidence.
Courses are free for anyone aged over 19, for those who want to get a formal qualification, progress in work or for those who are interested to get back into learning to grow their confidence with numbers.
Some courses only last a day, others a few weeks. Learning can be one-to-one with a tutor or in small groups.
What you’ll learn is flexible, and can work around your own particular learning needs.
It could be in the classroom or in a work or real-life setting. Maybe you want to move on to taking a formal exam, gain confidence with numbers, get that promotion at work or help the kids with their learning.
Search for training and qualifications near you
*A new approach to making the UK numerate – research by National Numeracy
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