"I felt silly and scared of getting told off for not knowing" – Cathy's story

Cathy Prior is Social Impact Programme Manager for Provident Financial Group. She has had a difficult relationship with maths over the years. Now, as well as building her own confidence, she’s working with National Numeracy to help people in the community strengthen their number skills.

Cathy Prior Portrait PhotoHow did you find maths when you were growing up?

I hated maths at secondary school. I remember being sat in lessons and not feeling comfortable to ask the teacher for help when I didn’t understand. I felt silly and scared of getting told off for not knowing.

My dad used to help me with homework, but I’d get so frustrated that he would instead just say, “give it here and let me do it.” One time I did it myself and I got 2/10. My teacher wrote, “atrocious, see me.” In the end I was so put off that I didn’t go to my maths lessons at all.

Can you tell us a bit about your history with money?

I left home when I was still quite young and had no idea how to budget, I was living on benefits and would spend money as soon as I got it and then end up borrowing for the rest of the month. It quickly spiralled out of control. I found it hard to deal with direct debits coming out of my account on different days of the month and even now things like that still frighten me. I only deal in cash now and go into the bank to pay the bills when they are due. This has really helped me because I can actually see what I am doing with my money and to me that feels more real.

Do you think your difficulties with maths had an impact on this?

Definitely, because being faced with things like terms and conditions, interest rates and inflation can be really baffling and cause anxiety to take over so that you can’t sit and calmly work out what is being explained to you. It’s almost like being back in that classroom again.

If you don’t have the skills to work out a percentage, take financial advice or get a better deal, how are you going to look after your money?

Has maths affected your work life?

There have been times where my anxiety with maths has stopped me going for other roles because I’ve worried about working with numbers and spreadsheets.

What was your experience of the National Numeracy Challenge like?

At first, I got a low score and I felt a bit disheartened, but in the end I did go back to do a bit of the learning and when I tried the skills check again I got a much better score. I was really proud of that and I’m determined now to get up to the Essentials!

"I know that I’m never going to be a maths professor, but that’s okay – I just need to do the basic numeracy I need in everyday life"

You attended a “Becoming a Numeracy Champion” session with us – how did you find that?

I wanted to go to the session to see if it would help me, but also to think about how, in partnership with National Numeracy, Provident Financial can support other people. I realised in the session that I’m not the only person who struggles with maths. It highlighted that you shouldn’t be ashamed of struggling, because if you don’t ask for help, you can’t learn and get better. One of the things I found most useful was talking about persistence, where we shared examples of other situations where we’d felt anxious about something but been able to overcome our barriers. I talked about public speaking, and how I was nervous about giving a presentation, but I did it. It showed me that it was the same kind of anxiety I needed to overcome with maths.

Becoming a Numeracy Champion is a training programme which helps people within organisations support those who feel anxious about maths or have low confidence with numbers. 

The programme aims to introduce a unique attitudinal approach to supporting numeracy and show how National Numeracy’s tools can be used to support numeracy initiatives. 

For more information on the sessions contact Ben Perkins – Training Development and Delivery Lead – at ben@nationalnumeracy.org.uk or 01273 915 044.

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