Sophie – what's one word that you would use to describe how you feel about maths?
Sophie: For me, okay is my word, because I've always been sort of middle of the road. I've never been particularly amazing at it, but I feel like I'm at that basic level where I know enough to get through life and not feel too worried.
Why did you want to become a Numeracy Champion?
Sophie: I’m an engagement advisor, so I love stuff like this – any chance to help people learn and develop is my bag. Employability is a big part of my role, so I can use those skills to talk to people coming through to look for work, to help them feel more confident. So I was really excited when I found out Lincolnshire Co-operative were doing this, and I think it's something all employees should do because for a lot of people it is an avoidance thing. We all use maths more than we realise, and it's stopping a lot of people from progressing in their career or in their confidence.
I was really pleased that the organisation decided to take it on, and it was very popular – I think there was even a waiting list!
And how did you find the training when you started doing it?
Sophie: Really good! It was really organised and I liked how we had breakout rooms. For me breakout rooms can be a bit daunting; when you're with people you don't know it can feel awkward. But we were with colleagues, and it was nice to listen to people from different teams and business areas. It was really useful, mainly for developing how you speak to somebody about maths because it can be a difficult subject to talk about for a lot of people.
Has it helped in your role as Engagement Advisor?
Sophie: Yes – mainly it ties the National Numeracy content into the programmes that we run, like asking young people on the Prince’s Trust programmes we have to do the National Numeracy Challenge and talking about the benefits of that. We also did a 50+ employability day at the beginning of the year and I showed them some videos, asked how they felt about maths, and it was interesting seeing the difference between age groups and people with different backgrounds. For Checktember we did drop-in sessions, where myself and other Numeracy Champions held sessions in the staff room and had conversations with colleagues about maths. We've had a couple of competitions where they told us how they use maths in the workplace, how many sweets are in a jar, that sort of thing. It means that I get to be creative and think of what we can do to engage colleagues with maths, which is nice!
And are you seeing changes in the staff that you work with?
Sophie: Yes, and Tasha especially! She was the guinea pig. I needed to have a conversation with somebody, and knew she was going through exam prep for her Functional Skills Maths. It was perfect timing as that was the same time as me having my Numeracy Champion training. And more generally I notice it talking to people in the office; it feels like maths isn't a big scary subject anymore, because everyone knows we work with National Numeracy and lots of us are Champions. It’s just made it seem much more positive and people feel more open to talk about it. Even just having posters up, people see them and suddenly it's not this big scary thing anymore.
Tasha: It's like in primary school in a way, where maths is presented as being fun. It's like a psychological effect, isn't it? It's shifting your association.
Tasha, what word would you use to describe how you feel about maths?
Tasha: The way I used to feel about maths was afraid. It made me feel self-conscious, and as a person who rarely feels like that, suddenly having this thing that made me feel that way meant I hated it. I didn't want to face it.
But that was a few months ago. Since then, I’ve passed my Level 2 exam, and now – and this isn't a negative word – I feel indifferent. I'm not super keen on it, but it's fine, and I've been able to manage it in a way that suits me, in a way that I'm comfortable.
Why did you decide to return to it as an adult?
Tasha: It's part of my Level 5 CIPD HR Consultant degree. I passed English, but the maths exam took me three tries this year. They’re like school exams where there’s a calculator and a non-calculator, and you need 60% to pass it. On my third go I got 67% and I passed! It's just fantastic.
I don't usually like doing exams like that. To be sat down doing an exam in something you're not confident with, palms sweating…it's a full-on physical reaction. But something was just different about that third exam – and I smashed it! I’m probably still not somebody who would get 100%, but I just made sure that I did the revision and I felt better about maths.
Sophie: That comes up a lot as a Numeracy Champion, because if you speak to somebody who's not keen on maths, often they'll revert back to their childhood. But you're not in that setting anymore. With day-to-day maths it’s not a race, no one's marking you if you get it wrong, and you can redo it. It's a chance to learn something, rather than this big scary thing where you've got invigilators and you're in silence against the clock. So getting that out of people's heads is quite important.
Tasha: Yes, and it's the same with anything – speaking to somebody about it will have a positive effect. It's about encouraging people to open up about how they feel – Sophie was never going to say to me, “What? You don't know how to do this?” So I spoke with Sophie often, and also did revision with my line manager, Barbara. We did test papers and would work them out together, then I’d put the paper on Sophie's table and be like, “Look what I've done today! And I'm going to explain it to you!”
It really helps having a Champion who can offer you that support.
Do you find yourself using maths more now that you feel more confident?
Tasha: Definitely. I'm doing my consultative project at the minute, so I need to look at figures and percentages of employees who've completed one of our courses that we host here. I know that 136 colleagues have completed the training so far, out of around 2900 people, and then I worked out that's 5% of colleagues and I knew that we need to up it to 10%. So, with simple calculations like that I feel comfortable now. Also, for absence reporting we need to look at how many are to do with stress and anxiety. I figured out that it had doubled over the course of COVID because it's been a difficult couple of years, and to have that in a report is really important.
How did you first feel as an employee when you found out Lincolnshire Co-operative was launching this maths initiative?
Tasha: Learning and Development were really passionate about it, and great at spreading the word. It had a really positive feel about it generally, and it was clear it wasn’t going to be the kind of thing where you feel like you're being scorned for not having these skills. So what if you can't do multiplication in your head? I can't always do it, and most of my multiplication just comes from memory. I've not actually worked it out, I just remember it from school.
I did want to sign up to be a Champion myself, but with the way I felt about maths at the time, I probably wasn’t confident enough to. But if we do it next year then I'll definitely have a go! It's done really well and people constantly talk about it; it's woven into what we do as a business.
What advice would you give to others and why do you think people should build their confidence?
Sophie: The main thing for me is that it opens up doors for people. It's not just about work, it's about day-to-day life and changing the stigma. If people have children or grandchildren or friends who are nervous about maths, being able to support them is really important, because I think there's nothing worse than avoiding something and having that constant fear in the back of your mind.
For us doing an end-of-year report, we're okay with it because we know the basics now – and if we don't know, we'll ask for help. I literally asked Tasha a few days ago about how to work out a percentage of things because it was a weird figure into another figure. I couldn’t remember how to do it, so I asked her, and she was able to help straight away! It's about working together; it's not about being perfect.
It’s this continuous learning path that we're all on; I think people leave school and think, “Well, I was rubbish at it, so that's it done. I'm just not a maths person.” But actually, that can change.
No one's saying you have to be amazing or love maths, but it can make life so much easier if you know those essentials.
Tasha: Definitely, and every day is an opportunity for you to learn something. This is going to benefit you – could be by a little amount, could be a bigger amount – and you will come away with another feather in your cap. That's what we just need to carry on promoting: the positive connotations. There's no escaping it, maths is everywhere, but don't worry about it! It's not going to come and get you in the night. It's just part of life. It's nothing to be afraid of.
And you’re not alone, that’s what Barbara told me, she said: “There are other people, just like you, struggling just as much. You're not alone, you're in this big boat with 20 other people that we know of who are struggling. So don't feel like you're the only person in the world that can't do it, because that's not true.” It can make you feel really sad and isolated, so we want to get people into this community of others who feel the same.
Sophie, what would you say to other people who are thinking about maybe being a Numeracy Champion?
Sophie: It's not about being a whizz at maths, because I'm definitely not; it's just about learning to talk to people about it, to break down that stigma, and address myths about maths. Just this week someone came in and said, “I'm more of an English person.” You hear that a lot, and it's just been drilled into people that you're either good at maths or you're not. It's scary how that message continues and passes onto the next generation too. This is a really good way to kind of stop that in its tracks.
And I love that there's no pressure; being a Champion isn't about how good you are at maths, it's just about being able to talk about it and recognising the value. It's a lovely thing to do as a group, and the training is brilliant. It’s so helpful to have that knowledge because even outside the workplace, if you come across a family member who struggled with maths, you can have that positive impact by saying, “There's National Numeracy, they've got resources, you can try the Challenge.”
There are so many benefits to being comfortable with maths. You go shopping and see discounts like 20% off – we're all trying to save money at the moment, so it's useful to be able to compare prices. And yes, there are things that we do at school that we may not end up needing, but a lot of what we learn is useful and there's no harm in kind of going back and learning bits that you've maybe forgotten.
It doesn't feel like a big scary thing for a lot of people in this building now, because it is just talked about so positively.
Finally, Tasha, how did it feel when you passed your exam?
Tasha: It all happened within a week and a half – I had my exam, then my 30th birthday, then I found out I passed! Lots to celebrate all at once!
Sophie: The best bit was when Tasha got the news because I was sat opposite her, and her face just went really serious and then creased together and she just burst into tears! I was like, “Are you alright?!” and she just went, “I’ve passed, I’ve passed, I’ve passed!” It was brilliant. It was amazing.
Tasha: It was just such a joyous moment! I do take learning quite seriously, and always have done. So for me to go from being so scared of maths, to finding out I had to pass this exam, and it taking multiple tries…it’s just been quite an emotional rollercoaster! It was really hard, but when I passed it was a full-on “I'd like to thank the Academy” kind of moment!
Sophie: And we were all just so pleased because we’d all been through that rollercoaster with you – every time you did an exam we'd all be crossing our fingers. And I could tell you were in a better headspace when you went in the third time because we’d spoken about it; you’d done so much revision, we weren't scared to ask you about it anymore, we were just talking about openly. So I had a good feeling about it. We were all very happy, jumping about the office and whooping!