Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is proposing to make learning maths mandatory up to the age of 18.
“We must change our anti-maths mindset,” he has said, arguing that the value of maths is overlooked and the education sector needs to prioritise numeracy to give young people vital skills needed to succeed at work and in life.
Others, though, take a different view, believing that maths should remain optional after 16. Mathematician Hannah Fry has said that enforced higher maths will “traumatise teenagers.”
Rosalind Azouzi FRAeS, 48, executive director of the Institute of Maths and its Applications (IMA), understands the trauma around learning maths.
“The idea of enforcing people to do a difficult maths qualification would be a problem,” she says.
“People have fear and anxiety around maths, we don’t want to deter them from continuing their education, striking the balance is going to be important.”
Failure, lack of confidence and bad experiences in the classroom are some of the reasons why kids may be reluctant to learn it, she adds.
“Children are sensitive to the environment around them and there are times where they feel embarrassed or upset.
“If you get more answers wrong than right, it feels as if you’re bad at something.
“The difficult side of it makes people lose their confidence.”
“You need to be comfortable with numbers, it doesn’t mean you have to be a math genius”
While learning algebra or trigonometry may be difficult for pupils, teachers are facing challenges of their own. A lack of maths teachers, funding and resources in the education sector means they are spread thinly.
“Teachers have been under so much pressure, it’s difficult to make it engaging when the topic is hard or a higher level,” Rosalind acknowledges. “They need help to identify any support they might need for the classroom.”
Research by Cambridge University found that teachers were a common trigger in maths anxiety with secondary school students reporting ‘poor teacher explanation’ as a factor. Further research found 62% of schools admitted to using non-specialist teachers for ‘some’ maths lessons.
“We need to do a review of the current format, teaching and how that works for different types of children,” she says. “They’re working hard to overcome the stereotypes of maths, but it can be a challenge.”
For many young people, being presented with a tough formula and not being able to work it out may be enough reason to give up.
Rosalind says, “People don’t realise that they can overcome their anxiety, maths is challenging but they would be more successful if they had confidence. You need to be comfortable with numbers, whatever career you go down. It doesn’t mean you have to be a math genius.”
Aside from the typical mathematical careers of accounting or banking, maths is used in a variety of creative industries.
Angles, length and sectioning are key factors that hairdressers consider when transforming hair. “Math didn’t interest me, but I now use it to mix chemicals, shape hair and measure inches,” says Sam Hall, hairdresser.
When mixing formula, hairdressers decide what ratio to use, 1:1 or 1:1.5 and then apply to the amount of product needed, while angles are critical to getting a balanced cut.
Sam also works as a hairdressing lecturer at Burghley Hair and Beauty Academy. She says, “Maths is incorporated into every lesson, consultation sheets are designed to ensure that costs, angles, ratios and percentages are being calculated.”
The mathematical aspect of hairdressing is often overlooked. Sam says, “I even have to educate parents about it, you need to develop an understanding of maths as a hairdresser, it’s a creative and technical job.”
Megan Crook, fashion designer and director of Get Crooked, a store in Nottingham uses math when measuring, pattern making, grading and manufacturing.
She says, “It’s all maths, it’s just creative maths.”
Designing and making garments relies on measuring, creators need to adjust samples to their clients’ body measurements. Megan, 39, says, “It’s all about proportions, maths is a huge part of that in terms of working out ratios when you’re doing gathers and creating ruffles.”
She adds, “Knitwear revolves around maths, in terms of writing stitch patterns, you have to apply it to your design and desired fit.”
Alongside designing clothes, maths is crucial to opening and running a business. Megan says, “I use it for budgeting, cash flow, costings, and setting goals. You can’t build a business and keep your bills paid without it.”
Maths is used in the world of fitness when calculating body fat, composition, calories and meal plans. Personal trainer, Daisy Peaceful says, “We use the Harris benedict calculation when counting calories, it uses the basal metabolic rate, age, height, weight and activity level of the person to determine the total daily energy expenditure.”
An understanding of weight conversion is needed when measuring body fat. Daisy, 25, says, “I put my clients on scales to get their body fat percentage, from there I’ll do maths and find their lean body weight, fat and healthy fat, I then determine whether they need to lose or gain weight.”
A cup of coffee may be the last thing that people associate with maths but researchers at the University of Limerick created a mathematical model to produce the perfect cup.
Luke Simms, barista at Blend says, “It’s pretty much numbers and timing, you have to get the measurements right, how much the coffee weighs, how much water goes through, you need to do ratios for that.
“Getting the weight or ratio wrong can make it taste bitter.”