We need to change how maths is taught in schools

Bobby Seagull:

Being good at maths does not necessarily make you good at managing money. You might be able to use Pythagoras’ theorem, but can you compare the merits of a fixed-rate mortgage with a floating one? And while you can handle quadratic inequalities, how confident would you feel working out credit card interest?

Finishing GCSE maths exams aged 16, most of us never again encounter trigonometry and the Sohcahtoa mnemonic, the joy of simultaneous equations or how to work out the volume of a sphere (4/3πr³). So we might ask, “What was the point of school maths?”

As a maths teacher, I love my subject. I find beauty in the way that patterns in the world can be explained by maths — whether it is the insect cicadas emerging in prime number cycles to evade predators or how fractal patterns permeate snowflakes. However, you can achieve the top grade in GCSE Maths (A* in old money, but now a shiny new grade 9) and still not be practically proficient with numbers in the real world, especially when it comes to money.

This is why I am supporting the first National Numeracy Day next Wednesday (I am an ambassador for the charity behind it, which focuses on improving numeracy for adults). Their headline statistic is that just under half of UK working-age adults have the numeracy skills numeracy skills of a primary schoolchild.

This is bad for the individuals concerned and for the companies they work for. The charity has developed “the essentials of numeracy” to test the skills and attitudes needed to use numbers and data to make good decisions at work and home.

Related: Math Forum.