Skip to main content


5 ways to help your team with numeracy

2 May 2018

Ben Perkins, Partner Support Coordinator at National Numeracy

It’s not always easy to support your team with a subject which brings about such anxieties as numeracy. National Numeracy has worked with employers all over the country to help them turn their staff from maths phobics into confident number crunchers.
Here's our top tips for making it work:

Ben edited

1. Don’t underestimate the emotion 

“I’m shaking like a leaf”, “this is scary”, “it makes me feel physically sick.” These comments at the start of a recent numeracy workshop are pretty typical of most places we visit. Bad school memories, low self-belief and a fear of failure lead to chronic maths anxiety for many people, resulting in a tendency to dodge maths altogether. One person we spoke to recently said she wanted to be a nurse since her early twenties but was anxious about lacking the maths skills she would need to make the step up. She is in her late fifties now and still hasn’t found the confidence to go for it. 

It’s important to recognise these barriers. If you ignore the mindset of learners then they probably won’t engage much further. 

We've helped many maths-anxious groups to flourish without teaching them any maths at all, but by running ‘attitude’ workshops to unpick their thoughts and feelings. When we asked them to use the National Numeracy Challenge (our free resource for checking your numeracy level and learning online), most of them improved their result and passed the numeracy module of their course. Some even looked forward to logging on and practising! 

2. Make it real

Your team might think they don’t need trigonometry, algebra and equations to do their jobs. They’re probably right. But what they do need is simple maths applied to the real world. This is what we mean by numeracy. 

It’s important that people can see how improving their skills will affect their real lives and work. In our workshops we use an activity which asks people to think about a task they do everyday and then unpick the maths they need to complete it. People are able to come up with an incredible number of places they are using maths. These are often the same people who told us earlier they were “not a maths person” or they “can’t do it.” This is a lightbulb moment for so many – showing that they do need these skills and they can do it. 

3. Recognise it’s a learning opportunity, not a test

Getting better at maths doesn’t happen overnight for anyone. It’s important that people are able to work at their own pace to learn something new. Being tested brings back bad school memories and feelings of pressure. One employer we were working with told a group of staff that they were going to set a numeracy test; many were so anxious they simply did not turn up. 

People will feel more supported and comfortable when they know it’s ok to make mistakes and that their first Check-Up score doesn’t matter – it’s about improving not where you start off.

4. Make it part of something 

As you have noticed by now, when it comes to maths, people who need to improve don’t always jump straight to the front of the queue. Build it into an existing learning and development programme or feature it within training events, and not only will this show that your organisation thinks numeracy is important, but it will allow learners to think of numeracy as a small part of something which is important to them, not just an extra requirement.

5. Be enthusiastic! 

It sounds simple, but it’s a game changer. Employers who have had the most success with us have driven their campaign by showing there is genuine interest from the very top. Buy in from senior management and HR sends a strong message that this is important, which makes a huge difference. Taking the time and space to practise their everyday maths is so much easier when it’s wholeheartedly supported. 

Want to help your team with numbers?

With our help everyone on your team can see good numeracy as something within their grasp.