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Exploring the role confidence plays in number skill

1 Nov 2023

A new National Numeracy research briefing takes a close look at the role confidence has to play when it comes to number skill.

Read the research briefing

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How a confidence-based approach to numbers can have a major impact

Our research shows that number confidence is crucial to unlocking number skills improvement. In addition, we see that a confidence-based approach to numbers can have major impact, far beyond mere skills improvement.

The correlation between number confidence and number skills is so strong, in fact, that number confidence is the single best predictor of number skills. Having a growth mindset is also key. The belief that maths ability is fixed is often the biggest barrier to improvement.

Poor numeracy (including levels of skill and confidence) is widespread but largely hidden. This inevitably impacts on education outcomes and qualifications, career choices and progression, and ultimately prosperity, social mobility and social cohesion. 

National Numeracy actively supports people to improve their number confidence and skills, including through the National Numeracy Challenge online tool. 

In 2022, over 1,000 users of this tool were surveyed as part of our Number Confidence and Social Mobility research report, which was published in April 2023 and supported by our partner Capital One.

This briefing paper focuses on insights from the report around the role number confidence plays in improving people’s number skills, and the implications for supporting social mobility.

This research briefing offers a number of recommendations, including that:

Employers should:

  • Acknowledge the crucial role number confidence plays in being successful in any job.
  • Support employees to build their number confidence, as well as their number skills.

Policymakers should:

  • Acknowledge that improving number confidence is a powerful precursor to improving number skills.
  • Ensure that appropriate confidence-building support is available to adults with low numeracy. 
Research briefing cover

Webinar on number confidence and social mobility

To coincide with the new research briefing, National Numeracy hosted a webinar called Number Confidence and Social Mobility on 1 November where a panel discussed the report’s findings, looked in detail at the data, answered questions from participants, and suggested what could be done to address the issues raised.

What the panel said:

Bobby Seagull, Maths teacher, television presenter, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers and National Numeracy Ambassador, said: “If you work in an institution or organisation, it’s trying to create a culture or environment where people feel comfortable saying: ‘Actually, I need a bit of help with my maths,’ and it not being seen as a stigma… It’s in our best interests to allow people to feel open about talking about it because then we can uplift all our workforces.”

Anne Okafor, Chartered Construction Manager, Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) Construction Ambassador, STEM Ambassador and National Numeracy Champion, said: “I think we often think of maths as either you can or you can’t, we think of it as an innate ability – either: ‘You are a maths person’ or ‘You’re not a maths person’. So when people have that: ‘I’m not a maths person’, you don’t try anymore…I think language, attitudes and understanding would be where I’d want to focus.”

Sam Sims, CEO, National Numeracy, said: “We know now the role that confidence plays, so how can employers support people to build their confidence as a precursor to or alongside starting to develop their skills? Often we leap straight to the skills solution, which people might not be ready for, particularly if they’ve had a bad experience to date, so it’s something we’re very passionate about pursuing at National Numeracy.”

Paul Foss, Head of Impact and Evaluation, National Numeracy, said: “We promote the use of the National Numeracy Challenge as almost like an MOT, something you do very regularly, a health check you come back to time and again, but it was pleasantly surprising to find that’s generally how people were using it… The National Numeracy Challenge was playing that essential role of filling in that area of confidence and growth mindset and really helping people along their journey.”

Watch the webinar below:

Other research briefings and webinars on numeracy and social mobility

Read the research briefing and watch the webinar on Number Confidence – The Gender Divide

Read the research briefing and watch the webinar on Fit for Work – Number Confidence and Social Mobility

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Photo credit: Mikhail Nilov, Pexels