Brenda's story

Brenda, a Community Psychiatric Nurse, used the National Numeracy Challenge to improve her numeracy skills. She told us how it helped her get ready to pass the Non-Medical Prescribers Course. Read her story below.

Two women talkingWhat made you sign up for the National Numeracy Challenge? 

I took up the challenge because I want to apply for a nurse prescribers course and for that I need a good basic knowledge in maths.

How did you find the process? 

I did not use a calculator because I wanted to challenge myself. The first time I took the challenge I scored 76, you need 80 to pass. I did not become disheartened but used some of the lessons on the website to brush up on the subjects I had not been so good at. I found the lessons very useful.  

And what happened after using the improvement resources? 

I was very pleased that on my second attempt at the challenge I managed to pass. 

Well done! What are your feelings towards maths now? 

It’s funny but I do feel really proud of myself for doing this, especially as I am 55 years old and haven’t really done any numeracy skills for many years. 

How has using Challenge helped your career? 

After taking the challenge I sat a maths test to enable me to do the Non-Medical Prescribers course, I don’t think I would have passed had I not taken the challenge. 

Do you have any advice for other people who want to improve their maths? 

If I can do it so can you. 


Try it yourself- register on the Challenge website 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. 

Get started


"If I can turn my numeracy skills around with this website, anyone can"

Stuart Morley works as a Cardiovascular Rota Coordinator at Brighton and Sussex University Hospital NHS TrustEnglish and IT were no problem for him, but when it came to maths he knew he needed some extra help to be ready for his Functional Skills exam.

Stuart Morley

How did you come across the National Numeracy Challenge? 

Last year I completed an NVQ in business studies which involved mandatory courses in maths, English, and IT. I passed English and IT no problem; but when it comes to maths I didn’t realise how poor I was. My trust had recently partnered with National Numeracy and when I received an email from the charity and I saw an opportunity to try and get to grips with it, the email fell into the right place at the right time. 

How did you feel about maths? 

Ever since I was at school, maths has never been my strongest subject. But saying that, I worked in commercial aviation for 16 years and part of that I did aircraft dispatch. You do not have the luxury of a calculator trying to work out required calculations for the aircraft Captain, when you are on a windy taxiway at 4 AM and it’s snowing! You have to do it in your head. So I knew I had the skills if I pushed myself but was just lacking confidence in doing things practically. 

Are there any moments that you remember freezing up?  

Some time ago I played darts for a local pub and you’ve got to do lots of calculations in your head for scoring, 10 from 20 was fine, but 16 away from 54 I was just hoping somebody would shout the score out. My mind just went blank, I’d have a complete mental block, I couldn’t subtract those figures. 

How did the website help you?  

It was interesting to see that when you actually complete the test, it will show how much you improved since the previous week. It’s a really useful tool, it’ll show where your weaknesses lie, and then you can look at that area on the website to work on it. It’s very user friendly, it’s not difficult to go through to work out exactly what you’ve got to do. You get a certificate and it’s all pretty straight forward.  

How long did you spend using it? 

I mainly used it at work. About 30 minutes in my lunch break every Thursday. You always get five or ten minutes spare no matter how busy you are in a day. You can stop it whenever you want and go back to it. 

This time going in to the exam I know I will feel better … I’m not going to convince myself that I’m going to fail. 

How long did it take before you started to see an improvement in your score? 

About 2-3 weeks. You can go back on the exercises and see where your shortfalls are, so then it’s up to you to improve. I’d convinced myself before that I was going to fail but now it’s different, you can say “okay this week I didn’t pass but I can go away and practise”, go on the website and it gives you the tools you need to improve. It becomes a confidence thing. 

You have learned to overcome your feelings about maths; do you use this to convince others that they can too?  

Big time, I received an award for the most improved learner earlier this year… It amazed me. If somebody had told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be getting an award from Rachel Riley I’d never have entertained the thought.  

Well done! Has improving your confidence with numbers helped your career? 

Yes, I’d be the first one with simple calculations to use the calculator on my desktop, but now I make a conscious effort to do in my head and work it out myself, or on paper. You can check it, but the more you do the more confident you become. And outside of work its things like when you’re at the supermarket looking at fat percentage, it sort of falls into everyday life. 

How has the National Numeracy site helped you achieve the qualification you’re doing? 

With my previous course in business admin I didn’t necessarily have to pass all the numeracy exams to get the qualification. But the next one is a level 4 project management course, and to get this I have to pass the Functional Skills qualification. 

From a personal point of view it is not judgemental and patronising, but promotes confidence and belief in your abilities, enabling me to approach Functional Skills exams with a ‘can do, will do’ attitude. If I can turn my numeracy skills around with the assistance of this website, anyone can. 

This time going in to the exam I know I will feel better than I did last time; I’m not going to convince myself that I’m going to fail. 


Try it yourself- register on the Challenge website 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. 

Get started

Jane Eyre

Want to help others get confident with numbers? You don’t need to be a maths expert to get started

Jane Eyre, a Union Learning Rep and self-confessed maths phobic, tells us how she has been using National Numeracy resources to overcome her feelings towards numbers. She now runs award-winning numeracy campaigns across Blackpool Teaching Hospitals to help staff gain skills and confidence.

How do you feel about winning the Unionlearn ULR Award for Promoting Numeracy for the second year in a row?

We are really pleased that we’ve won it again, it's brilliant. The recognition helps us spread the word more widely within the Trust, and get out to the community staff as well as those in hospital settings. 

Why did you get involved with National Numeracy?

We were at a ULR workshop and National Numeracy gave a presentation. We had already heard another presentation about maths which was really confrontational and told us to do a test. Then National Numeracy came along with a completely fresh approach. It was more laid-back, without the pressure and was actually quite fun. 

Why does the National Numeracy approach work?

It is everyday maths, day-to-day stuff and not “pi equals x”. Maths still panics me but the National Numeracy Challenge has made me feel more at ease and I have given it a go. 

Jane Eyre and Bev Herring

 "People see that if you get your foundations you can then go to any college, take that exam, and then you can move on in your career."

Is poor numeracy a hidden problem? 

Yes, when we first started we did a Challenge initiative and the results were quite low for most people that had done it. But the monthly data reports we receive from National Numeracy are really useful and we know we are making a difference. It helps us to show to the management and others why this is making a really good impact. 

Why is good numeracy important for healthcare staff? 

In a healthcare setting there’s lots of numeracy involved in people’s jobs on a day-to-day basis. When you’re working with the patients, from taking temperatures to fluid balance charts and medication, accuracy is so important.

How does better numeracy help people to progress at work?

When we encourage people to use the National Numeracy Challenge we explain that if you get 80 and above, you have the ‘essentials of numeracy’, which are the numeracy skills you need to support your career in health. It helps people to see that if you get your foundations you can then go to any college, take that exam, and then you can move on in your career.

Jane's top tips for a successful workplace numeracy campaign

You don’t need to be a maths expert to help people improve 

I am petrified of maths, panic sets in, if we’re in a workshop and maths comes up I feel nervous and a big block comes down.  I’d say to any other ULRs who feel the same that you can definitely still support numeracy in the workplace. Try the Challenge and see that it does have positive effects, that you CAN do it. It’s not as hard really as you think it’s going to be. Keep working at it and you’ll get there.     

Make it fun

We run an activity called ‘a teaser for a teaser’ where we give out the National Numeracy quick check (five everyday maths questions), and anyone who does it gets a Malteser bar regardless of what they score as it’s just about taking part. It starts with a lot of grumblings, but soon enough people get really excited and everyone wants a copy.  We always get feedback that they really enjoyed it.

Get management on board

We asked National Numeracy to come and talk to our Head of Learning and Development and HR. They were really enthused and said ‘right, let’s do it’. From there we secured ‘Moving Ahead’ money from UNISON and it was agreed that the National Numeracy Challenge would be built in to the Care Certificate for all healthcare assistants. 

Be a mentor for the team 

We have a presentation slot on the Care Certificate programme and tell them all about National Numeracy, and about the numeracy champions. I tell people about my fear of maths and that I’ve actually done the Challenge and gone up from a score of 30 to 80 and I was amazed. If I can do it anyone can do it.  We also ask all the attendees to sign up to the Challenge and to start it whilst we are there so we can help if there are any problems.

Inspired to help your team with numbers?

National Numeracy can work with you to help everyone on your team to see good numeracy as something within their grasp.

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Photo credit: UNISON

Ben Perkins

5 ways to help your team with numeracy

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:

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. 

Find out more