Boosting number skills as a stepping stone in your career

By Ben Perkins

Ben Perkins Partner Support Coordinator

Maths is a topic which many of us try to avoid. Anxiety, fear and stress around numbers are extremely common. However, to fulfil our potential and make the most of our career prospects we all need numbers. In many cases we need a Level 2 qualification to access a particular career, apprenticeship or training programme. 

This holds many people back. For people feeling anxious about maths, a Level 2 qualification can feel like a big step. It’s understandable that walking back into a maths classroom might be so daunting that you’re filled with dread, especially if you don’t feel confident with numbers and have bad school memories.

Working with Healthcare Assistants in the NHS we see this often. To move into nursing, staff need Level 2 maths (A*-C/9-4 at GCSE or Level 2 Functional Skills). Many of the staff we work with express such a high level of anxiety that they are willing to stop themselves from getting a dream job to dodge facing a maths exam.

“I have wanted to be a nurse since I was 23. I’m now 56 and I still haven’t done it because I know I’d just fail the maths”
Healthcare Assistant, Dorset 

A stepping stone to Level 2 maths

Often, those who do manage to take the step of accessing the qualification find it too much of a leap and drop out because they think they can’t do it. For many it has been a long time since they've engaged with formal maths learning and they struggle to catch back up. 

However, difficulties with numbers need not stop you in your tracks. Numeracy skills are easier to gain than, for example, the skills and values needed for healthcare, teaching, or becoming a mature student.

For many people, a stepping stone that addresses any anxiety, confidence or skills gaps could help to narrow the distance between where they are now and where they need to be to succeed in a formal qualification.

We have been working with employers to offer staff the opportunity to use the National Numeracy Challenge as the stepping stone to getting the skills they need to feel ready to take on a Functional Skills qualification. It provides a useful way to learn confidentially which helps many people to overcome anxiety, boost confidence and address any skills gaps in advance.


“[I'm going] for my Level 4 project management course, and to get this I have to pass the Functional Skills qualification. Going into the exam I know I will feel better than I did last time; I’m not going to convince myself that I’m going to fail.”
Admin Worker, Brighton 

5 tips to help you practise for your Level 2 maths qualification

Know your level – It’s handy to know where you are and the National Numeracy Challenge can benchmark your current skills and tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are. This can prove really helpful at the start of a course. You can find out more about levels HERE.

Get practising in advance – Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, get started with the learning resources on the Challenge. These are personalised to your current level based on how you answered the questions in the Check-Up. 

Keep going – Maths is like learning to drive. It might be hard to start with, you might not pass the first test you take, but bumps in the road are all part of the learning process. It’s all about persistence.

Reach the Essentials before your qualification – Scoring 80 points or more on the Challenge is broadly equivalent to adult Level 2 numeracy. It’s not exactly the same as the curriculum, but if you are scoring more than 80 you can feel confident that your skills are about right for taking on Functional Skills. 

Keep using the Challenge during the course – Why not keep using the learning resources while studying on your course? The learning resources provided might have a different way of explaining things which helps to compliment what you’re learning from your tutor.

Start improving your numeracy – register on the National Numeracy Challenge now!

National Numeracy has developed an online tool to help you improve your numeracy and boost your confidence. This interactive website is free to use at home, at work or on the move. You can assess your current level of numeracy – completely anonymously – and then begin an online journey to getting the Essentials of Numeracy. 

Give it a go