27th in the Pisa rankings. Why is it ok for the UK to be bad at maths?

 By Charlotte Gater, Head of Curriculum at Explore Learning (www.explorelearning.co.uk)


In the recent PISA rankings that compare the results in maths, reading and science of 15 year olds from across the globe, the UK came 27th in maths. Education policy will have some affect, but I believe that it’s our attitude towards maths that is having a major impact. 


Parents, we need your help, to get the UK’s children wanting to learn maths and striving to be good at it. There are some people out there that are already doing this. The problem is…


I meet so many well meaning parents, who are desperate to get maths support for their children, who start the conversation with ”well I’m no good at maths so neither are they.”


This makes me sad in so many ways. 


Firstly that it’s socially acceptable for us to just say we’re not good at maths. People aren’t saying “I’m not good at it yet, so please help me to get better”. It’s just “I’m not good at it” full stop. Possibly followed by a nervous laugh, but ultimately they are resigned to the fact that they can’t do it and that’s ok.


People go to extreme lengths to hide the fact that they can’t read or write but it’s just accepted that it’s fairly normal to not be good at maths. I’d like to see this stop. 


Secondly, parents are trying to help their child, but by announcing that they can’t do it they’re normalising a lack of maths skills and allowing the next generation to grow up with the same nonchalant attitude towards maths.   

Thirdly, if you think you can’t do maths, how do you know if you’re getting a bargain when you’re shopping and there is a percentage discount, or that you’re not getting ripped off by a credit card’s interest rates or paying too much for your mortgage? 

DSC_0513 (002)


Don’t get me wrong I know there are people with dyscalculia who have genuine difficulty with maths and I don’t expect everyone, including myself, to understand Stephen Hawkings’ level of maths – although we can always keep aiming for this. I just want the UK to get better at maths and to not just think you can or can’t do it. 


I think it’s great for parents to let children know that everyone finds things hard and that adults can’t just do everything. Please do show your children that you struggle sometimes and work hard to learn things too. 


Just please don’t say “I can’t do maths”. Why not try and learn something together? Accept that things are sometimes hard, but face your fears alongside your child and get stuck in.


Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory shows that everyone can improve their skills, in anything, if they think in the right way. You won’t always be the best, but by believing in your ability, being determined and with lots of practice (and mistakes!) you’ll improve.


So why not make an early New Year’s resolutions to improve your maths skills? 



Hundreds of children across the country have just competed in the National Young Mathematicians’ Awards, a competition organised by Explore Learning where children battle it out to be crowned the best young mathematicians in the country!  Their efforts were truly inspiring and here are a few tips to get you started on your way to improve your maths skills:


– The National Numeracy Challenge will help highlight areas you need support with and suggest activities to improve these: https://www.nnchallenge.org.uk/home/index.html


– The Khan Academy offers over 2000 free videos tutorials on loads of different maths topics: https://www.khanacademy.org/


– Find some fun apps you and your family can play. 10Monkeys Multiplication is great if you want to learn your times tables. 


– Prefer working with others? Up for a challenge? Most local colleges will have part time and evening maths courses you can enrol onto. 


– Does your child have a tutor? Ask them how they can help you! At Explore Learning we offer Parent Information Sessions to help parents learn about methods that are being used at school. Your child’s tutor may be able to do the same.  


I truly believe if we all get involved, together we can inspire the next generation to improve their maths skills.