Scotland has a maths problem. Too many of us are happy to label ourselves as "no good with numbers." This attitude is deep-rooted and is holding our country back educationally and economically.
The Making Maths Count Group has been set up to consider how to encourage greater enthusiasm for maths amongst children and young people, their parents and carers and the wider public. I am delighted to chair the Group as I believe that everyone can enjoy and achieve in maths.
We have undertaken an extensive programme of engagement work to understand the factors creating negative attitudes to maths and how these can be addressed. Over 3,000 adults and young people responded to our online questionnaire providing their views and ideas about maths. We have held focus groups with children and young people, teachers, parents and carers, college and university students and employers. They have told us what they like and dislike about maths and what we need to do to promote the benefits of maths as a vital life skill.
We identified two main challenges. The first is to convince everyone, whatever their circumstances in life, that they have the ability to become proficient at maths. The second is to convince them of the benefits of doing so.
The strongest messages we received to address these challenges were to make maths more relevant to real life and work and more enjoyable. Making maths more inspiring will help to create greater enthusiasm, encourage greater participation and raise attainment.
We considered evidence on initiatives to promote maths elsewhere in the world from Ireland to South Asia to America and the best practice taking place here in Scotland.
This has led us to focus on three key areas:
- Transforming public attitudes to maths.
- Improving confidence and fluency in maths for children, young people, parents and all those who deliver maths education to raise attainment and achievement across learning.
- Promoting the value of maths as an essential skill for every career.
Creating a positive climate for maths in Scotland requires everyone to contribute. Our work has reinforced our belief in the unparalleled benefits of maths. This ranges from the school pupil who told us that she loved maths and wanted to make her parents proud of her achievements to the CEO of a major Scottish company who pointed out the rich variety of careers that maths opens up, from creating the next generation of mobile phones to enlarging our knowledge of the outer reaches of the universe.
We have made 10 recommendations to transform Scotland into a maths-positive nation. These are:
Transforming public attitudes to maths
1. The Scottish Government should work with partners to commission a sustainable culture change strategy for Making Maths Count. The strategy should:
- create greater enthusiasm for maths as a vital life skill amongst children and young people, parents and carers and the wider public; and
- promote the value of maths as an essential skill for every career and an economic imperative if Scotland is to compete internationally.
The strategy should be appropriately funded and have a strong focus on communications and improving public access to a range of maths information and resources including those for family learning.
2. The Scottish Government should work with partners to develop jointly and fund a Maths Week Scotland which brings together events across the country with online and hands-on experiences for young people, their parents and carers and the wider public.
3. Each local authority should develop and implement a strategy to ensure that all schools and nurseries engage with parents, employers and others in their local communities to help children and young people develop greater awareness of the importance of maths to everyday life and future jobs. Education Scotland and local authorities should collaborate to share and disseminate good practice.
Improving confidence and fluency in maths
4. All schools and nurseries should use a wide range of effective learning and teaching approaches to promote positive attitudes and develop high expectations, confidence and resilience in maths.
5. Education Scotland should evaluate the quality of children's and young people's learning experiences and attainment in maths and share examples of good practice.
6. The GTCS, in partnership with Initial Teacher Education Institutions, Education Scotland and local authorities should undertake research on how well ITE students are being prepared to teach maths as newly qualified teachers. The research should include a review of:
- Minimum entry requirements to ITE for Maths.
- Other means of ensuring applicants have good quality maths skills, e.g. online testing of applicants' numeracy skills.
- The extent to which there is sufficient coverage of maths in primary ITE programmes to allow meaningful, quality maths learning in primary schools.
- The means by which ITE institutions continuously update and improve their programmes and provide a practical focus on teaching and learning styles that instils teacher confidence in delivering maths.
- The extent to which the probationary year promotes good-quality teaching and learning styles and improving confidence in maths.
7. All sectors of education should promote access to high-quality career long professional learning ( CLPL) to increase staff confidence and enhance professional practices in teaching maths to children, young people and adult learners. Each local authority should design, implement and evaluate the impact of a CLPL strategy for teachers and community learning staff to develop their professional practices in teaching maths.
8. Schools supported by the Attainment Scotland fund as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge should increase their focus on raising attainment in numeracy and include parental engagement in maths as part of their plans.
Promoting the value of maths as an essential skill for every career
9. To help raise Scotland's skills base and promote our economic competitiveness, Skills Development Scotland, Education Scotland, Scottish Funding Council and other relevant partners should work with employers, colleges and schools to develop an action plan for improving maths skills for employment. This should include a focus on adult learners both as workers and parents. One approach could be to commission an online tool and associated in-work support to help adults test and improve their maths skills. As well as those in work, the action plan should also consider support for those seeking work.
10. The network of Developing the Young Workforce Regional Groups should be asked to contribute to the development and implementation of the action plan in relation to school/employer engagement to promote maths as an essential skill for employment. This should cover primary as well as secondary schools.
We believe that these recommendations are practical, cost-effective and achievable. Putting them into action will add value to everyone's lives.
Email: Frank Creamer, Frank.Creamer@gov.scot