Literacy is often considered to be the driver for social mobility, shouldn’t we be focussing more on building the core in children and young people through the development of basic maths skills; providing opportunities for them to have a positive view of understanding numeracy . For ten years Achievement for All has been promoting ‘I can (aspiration), ‘I do’ (access), ‘I have’ (attainment) and ‘I am’ (achievement) building the confidence and ability to learn and develop and the skills to participate in society.
In relation to maths, a lack of confidence coupled with ‘maths anxiety’ can often stall progress. How many times do we hear ‘I could never do maths’, which would rarely be applied in the same way to reading skills.
Yet, we know there is strong demand from employers for those with maths skills at all levels. Those with basic numeracy skills are more likely to be in a job than those without; whilst those with higher level maths skills are more likely to enjoy higher earnings and to remain in employment throughout their working life. The technology driven economy is likely to grow, further increasing the demand for those with good numeracy skills at all levels. Tomorrow’s socially mobile are more likely to be those who ‘can do maths’.
So, what is holding us back? Research highlights the importance of exposure to pure maths in building resilience, where resilient pupils tend to perform better overall in maths (Wheater et.al., 2016). But with ability setting widely used for maths in this country, those in lower ability groupings will have less exposure to core mathematical concepts - equations or functions for example - than their peers in higher level groups. This is in spite of having spent the same amount of time in maths classes. Other research shows the importance of providing a whole school or setting approach to maths from the earliest years of education through primary school and beyond (Knowles, 2017); strong maths skills at age 11 provide a firm base for success during secondary school. A whole school approach means focusing on maths across leadership, teaching and learning, parent and carer engagement and wider opportunities; in essence developing a culture of maths across the educational setting.
For too many children and young people, the pattern of underachievement in maths has not yet been broken. It does not have to be like this. At Achievement for All, we know that children and young people at risk of underachieving, can thrive given the right educational experiences and support. We value working with schools to build the core of every child and drive better outcomes. This is reflected in our longitudinal evidence base (PwC, 2016) which shows that progress of targeted children and young people in maths is up to 50% above national expected levels (targeted children include those from less advantaged families, those with SEND, looked after children and others at risk of underachievement). There may be other challenges ahead for social mobility, but giving children and young people the opportunity through maths, to say ‘I can’ (aspiration), ‘I do’ (access), ‘I have’ (attainment) and ‘I am’ (achievement) (Blandford, 2017) is a great start.