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Rachel Riley calls for maths to have a makeover

14 Nov 2022

Rachel Riley says maths gets a bad rap and needs a makeover to show girls it’s a great subject. 

The maths whizz was speaking on the Maths Appeal podcast in her role as ambassador for National Numeracy. 

She said she'd been lucky to go to a school where maths was as much a subject for girls as it was for boys, but that she was aware that had not been everyone's experience. Now Rachel's on a mission to ensure it is!

Portrait of Rachel Riley smiling

Maths is for everyone

Rachel said: “At school, I was really lucky, no one ever put the idea into my head that girls weren’t as good as boys at maths... We need to change a lot of the messaging, change a lot of the PR, the advertising around maths. We need to just say there is no such thing as a maths brain!

She added: “We just need to change the way we pitch it and hopefully more people will have an experience like me, where it’s not even an issue or a consideration that girls wouldn’t be as good as boys.”

Parents can hand down their own maths anxiety to children, she told Bobby Seagull and Susan Okerere on the podcast, and often girls are told they are better at words or creative tasks. Rachel reckons it’s time to switch up the way we talk and think about maths.
The low confidence barrier 

Rachel’s comments come after a YouGov poll found that millions of women in the UK feel nervous about numbers. 

  • A study of more than 2,000 adults found women are twice as anxious as men about using maths and numbers.   
  • A quarter of women (24 per cent) said maths and numbers made them nervous, compared to 12 per cent of men.
  •  Meanwhile, one in four people would be deterred from applying for a job if it listed numbers and data as a requirement

Sam Sims, chief executive of National Numeracy, said: “Everyone can improve their numeracy, regardless of gender. But low number confidence is a barrier to using number skills, and we see that more in women and girls. 
“A bit of number know-how can help a lot in everyday situations, like managing your money or applying for a job. At this challenging time, with the cost-of-living crisis, people lacking in number confidence are losing out on the benefits that good numeracy can bring. We urgently need to change that!”

Rachel recorded a video to coincide with Number Confidence Week to help everyone boost the way they feel about maths by using the free National Numeracy Challenge.

She said: “With maths it’s really important to believe that you can improve. The National Numeracy Challenge is a brilliant online tool to check your own skills, to see where you are strong and where you need some help.

“When you start learning something new that you couldn’t do before, and you finally get it, just take a second and acknowledge that you got it, you understood it, and you can do it!”

The Maths Appeal podcast is sponsored by Experian.

Try the National Numeracy Challenge

However you feel about maths, you’re not alone. The National Numeracy Challenge is a free and easy-to-use website you can use to improve your confidence with numbers, in your own time and at your own pace.

It’s ideal for brushing up, checking your level, or for catching up on learning you missed, and it’s all about the maths you need in daily life and at work – no algebra or trigonometry.

Image showing the Challenge on a computer monitor