Maths anxiety transcript

I’m Dr Thomas Hunt, Associate Professor in Psychology and Head of the University’s Mathematics Anxiety Research Group. Our most recent work has focused on measuring maths anxiety and understanding what it is, including how it can affect an individual’s maths performance.

Our research with early stage learners revealed that some children as young as 4 were worried about working with numbers and already struggled with negative beliefs about their maths ability. And a recent study by the National Numeracy charity highlighted that nearly half of all working age adults have primary school level numeracy skills, which has a real cost to individuals of around £460 a year on average.

Adults with poor numeracy skills are twice as likely to be unemployed in the UK. So there’s an increasingly urgent need to be able to recognise maths anxiety, to find ways to tackle the fear of maths that affects both children and adults, and raising awareness that maths anxiety is one of the strongest predictors of individual attainment in the subject.

Our work has spanned a variety of approaches. We’ve developed and validated the UK’s first scales for measuring maths anxiety in children aged 4 to 7 and in adults. This includes self-report tools that are now regularly used in schools to identify pupils who are most in need of confidence-building and support.

The Mathematics Anxiety Scale UK, which draws directly from our research, continues to be a valuable tool used by the British Dyslexia Association as part of their training on dyscalculia, which is associated with extreme difficulty in acquiring number skills.

To confront the problem, we’ve provided tailor-made resources to support workshops for students, teachers and educational psychologists across the UK and beyond, providing support to children and adults in countries as far afield as Turkey and Uganda. One workshop specifically targeted pupils who were identified as having maths anxiety, and on average it led to them improving on their previous mock exam performance by almost half a grade.

Health Education England applied our research to address weaknesses in the functional numeracy skills of the NHS support workforce, with the aim of promoting numeracy training on a national scale. Our findings have also contributed to the work of the charity National Numeracy as part of their attempt to tackle maths anxiety in healthcare assistants in the NHS.

Here at the University, we’ve partnered with Vretta, a global organisation specialising in technology for maths education to embed pre- and post- measures of attitudes to the subject into their maths training software. This partnership led to the University of Derby becoming Vretta’s first academic hub in the UK to support success in mathematics.

Our research into maths anxiety has taken several exciting turns. We’re working with external colleagues to develop a tool for assessing anxiety in medicine management among nursing students, which includes anxiety concerning drug dosage calculations. We’re exploring maths anxiety in teachers, especially anxiety about the teaching of maths. And with a range of other academics around the world, we’re studying the relationship between maths anxiety and other psychological factors in school children.

Other projects include novel interventions to reduce maths anxiety in the classroom, methods to address misconceptions about the relevance of maths in the workplace and the design of a tool to support the early identification of maths anxiety in school children.

The main objective of our research is to reduce maths anxiety and improve confidence and attitudes around maths. This will enable people to learn and succeed in maths to the best of their ability.