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The NHS nurseries on a numeracy mission

11 Sep 2019

By Rachel Malic

Staff across the three workplace nurseries at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust are embracing the online National Numeracy Challenge, and inviting everyone to get on board their Numeracy Train. Nurseries Business Manager Cara Mitchell explains how looking for a way to provide extra support for their apprentices developed into a fully-fledged numeracy mission:

Supporting our apprentices 

We take on a lot of apprentices in our nurseries. Some of them had been struggling with their Functional Skills, and our Learning and Development team said National Numeracy could help. I’d already met Ben from National Numeracy at a conference a few years ago, so I thought this sounded like a great idea as it would help our apprentices build their confidence, and tackle their Functional Skills Mathematics.

I met with our three site managers – we have nurseries in Brighton, Hove and Crawley – and we started talking about the National Numeracy Challenge. I realised that I really wanted them to take the Challenge too; if we upskill our maths together it will benefit the children in our care.

I sent everyone the link, but it was slow-going in the beginning. We’d never done anything like this before, and everyone is so nervous about maths! We set aside time for staff to use the office computers though, and started tracking our achievements. Every time someone achieved their results we shared a photo of them with their certificate on social media, so we could all celebrate together. Now it’s become a mission.

The SCFT Numeracy Train

Our nurseries are used by both SCFT staff and our local communities, and we look after over 100 preschool children every day across our three sites. If all our staff brush up on their numeracy skills they can incorporate them into their daily work, and talk to our children confidently about numbers, size, volume and distances. 

We have 32 members of staff, aged 18-64, and we want everyone to get on board our Numeracy Train and take the online National Numeracy Challenge. There’s a bit of friendly competition going on, and we’re all working towards that magical score of 80 (the Essentials of Numeracy). I’ve scored 79 out of 100 so far, but I know which areas I need to improve and I’m determined to get there.

Now you can do your maths, that's it, the world's your oyster!

Building the foundations for Functional Skills

Sharon’s a fantastic example; she joined us as an apprentice Nursery Nurse after working as a hairdresser for 36 years. She’s in her fifties, and was really worried about taking the National Numeracy Challenge as she’s failed her Functional Skills Mathematics exam more than once already. An exam won’t show you where you’ve gone wrong though, which is the great advantage of the Challenge’s Check-Up. It shows you which areas you need to improve upon, and provides you with the resources you need to build your skills.

Yesterday Sharon phoned me, jumping up and down with excitement, to tell me that she’d achieved a score of 90 on her latest Check-Up, which is the second highest score in our nurseries so far. It’s a massive achievement, and everyone on our Facebook group was so supportive when we shared the news. One colleague commented “Now you can do your maths, that’s it, the world’s your oyster!” 

Sharon will be sharing her National Numeracy Challenge score with her tutor, and plans to start working towards her Functional Skills again soon. 

Let’s talk about maths

My advice to anyone else who wants to improve their numeracy would be to tackle it as a group, and take a mutually supportive approach. It’s lovely to see everyone helping each other, whether it’s someone stepping into the office to explain how to work out percentages on a calculator, or breaking down and solving a tricky question together. You get a real sense of empowerment once you get talking, comparing answers and different ways of working things out. Before the Challenge, none of these conversations would have happened.

It’s important to find the time to develop your skills, and already our hurdles have been far outweighed by the positive changes to our team. You hear people discussing numeracy in the most unlikely settings now! The other day a couple of our Nursery Nurses were soothing the children, preparing them for a nap, and it was very calm and quiet. The kids eventually nodded off, then there was a murmur over the baby monitor: “Oh did you hear I got 80 on the Numeracy Challenge?” followed by “Wow, did you? I’m doing mine this afternoon.”

Now everyone wants to get involved, and we’re even planning to include the National Numeracy Challenge in our induction for new nursery staff. It will help us understand their current numeracy level, and give them the support they need to develop. If everyone who works here can enjoy maths, talk about it confidently and not feel nervous about it, then it can only have a positive impact on our children.

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.