Hana Aslam

AHT Maths, Forest Gate Community School

Numeracy: what is it good for?

I promise you, like an irrational number, I will not go on forever without any direction about how amazing Numeracy is and why we need it in our lessons and in our lives!

So what is numeracy?

This is it. As our pupils progress year on year and potentially across pathways, they tend to forget the fundamentals of numbers. This includes BIDMAS, manipulation of decimals, percentages and fractions. We’re not talking about the basic ‘What is 10% of £60?’ or ‘What is 0.67 as a fraction?’ but the kind of problems even our top set pupils get their heads scratching such as:

‘Six people are in a room and each two can either be friends or enemies with each other. Show that there are always three of them who are all friends or all enemies with each other.’

These problems are not normally tackled in our classrooms with no fault of our own as teachers but our curriculum didn’t have the capacity to do so and our students love to solve problems with interlinking skills and have that light bulb moment. Now, with our revised long term plan(that we have seen plenty of times in Mr Zaman’s office and laughing at Mr Islam’s initial KOs!), we can now embed numeracy in such a way pupils have never seen before and can tap into an unknown use of numerical skills they never thought they had! We currently have 5 KOs for numeracy and they are the same across year 7 to year 10 for each pathway too. What we are trying to achieve with the differentiated approach is that the same skill can be used from Pathway D to Pathway X but the level of questioning differs. Mr Collins and Ms Iqbal have worked collaboratively in creating the numeracy KOs across FGCS and TCS. The kind of topics pupils learn are ratio, statistics, fractions, decimals and percentages. A typical year 8 pathway D numeracy KO example would be ‘I can add and subtract directed numbers using a number line’ and a pathway X of the same year and theme is ‘I can solve problems involving negative numbers and negative indices’. The pathway X pupil would learn all other pathways KO within the skill as the pathway D-A KOs will be a prerequisite to the pathway X KO. Numeracy lessons will take place at the beginning of each KO, at least 10 times in the year! Remember, we’re not here to just equip our pupils with a Maths GCSE but a lifelong numerical competency. Maths is all around us without us realizing it.

If we look at pizza, surely you’ve wondered why pizza is circular in shape, cut in smaller sectors that look like triangles and placed in a square box. The answer is quite simple, Square boxes, unlike circular ones, can be stacked without any wasted space. As for the triangular shapes, it’s the easiest way to cut a circle so that all of the slices have the same size.

Another one to think about, why is a hexagon (6 sided shape) the strongest shape? Why hexagons, though? It’s a simple matter of geometry. If you want to pack together cells that are identical in shape and size so that they fill all of a flat plane, only three regular shapes (with all sides and angles identical) will work: equilateral triangles, squares, and hexagons. Of these, hexagonal cells require the least total length of the wall, compared with triangles or squares of the same area. So it makes sense that bees would choose hexagons, since making wax costs them energy, and they will want to use up as little as possible—just as builders might want to save on the cost of bricks. Now bees are known to be ‘Heaven-instructed mathematicians’!

Before you order a pizza let’s end this on the note of the importance of numeracy. Our pupils live in a disadvantaged area and it is our collective duty to our pupils to ensure they are well equipped for the rest of their lives. Let’s put this into perspective,

“Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health.” - Andreas Schleicher

Director at OECD

A report in 2014 for National Numeracy by Pro Bono Economics has found that a person with poor numeracy, as opposed to someone with better numeracy, is worse off by £460 a year on their wages and it has cost the economy £20.2 billion! From the National Numeracy website on why numeracy is important, they have outlined some important points that are relevant for our setting. These are:

Employment- people with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to face unemployment

Money- good numeracy is linked to a range of positive financial behaviours including saving frequency and keeping up with bills

Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties- children with these problems are more likely to struggle with numeracy, even taking into account factors such as home background and general ability

School exclusions- pupils beginning secondary school with very low numeracy skills are more likely to face exclusion

Truancy-14-year-olds who have poor maths skills at 11 are more than twice as likely to play truant

Numeracy is so important for our pupils and our strategy for numeracy in our curriculum caters for all our pupils. Not only are we trying to make highly numerate individuals with all the best opportunities beyond school but also better citizens.

Further reading:

All Maths is Beautiful: accounts of how we improved our Mathematics curriculum (part 5)

Memory in Maths: accounts of how we improved our Mathematics curriculum (part 4)

Visualising Mathematics Sequencing: accounts of how we improved our Mathematics curriculum (part 3)

Mathematical fascination: accounts of how we improved our Mathematics curriculum (part 2)

When maths did not add up: accounts of how we improved our Mathematics curriculum (Part 1)