Pupils 'won't ask for maths help'


Secondary school pupils are so scared of looking stupid in maths lessons they will not tell their teachers if they do not understand, suggests research.

A survey of 1,000 10- to 16-year-olds found two-thirds would rather struggle alone or ask friends or family for help.

Half of the 15- and 16-year-olds felt they should already know the answer.

A government spokeswoman said plans to overhaul maths teaching would give children more confidence.


I wonder whether this reluctance to ask for help is Maths- specific or whether it translates across the curriculum? The last thing a teenager wants to do in class is to draw attention to themselves (unless for bad behaviour, I guess)

And this story from the Independent:

Almost 50 per cent of adults can't do basic maths (that means half)


Almost half the adults in England only have the maths skills of a primary school child, according to a report out today.

Figures show that while literacy rates are improving, the number of adults who have numeracy skills no better than those expected of an 11-year-old has shot up from 15 million to 17 million – 49 per cent of the adult population – in the last eight years.

Part of the problem, according to National Numeracy, a new charity launched today, is that it has become socially acceptable to boast of poor mathematical skills.


My DD has a new (to the school) maths teacher this year, who comes from a highly academic school and expects the girls to be rather more advanced than they are!  Some of them are genuinely frightened to ask her a question, and I believe a couple of parents have been in to complain.  One girl in the set below was offered a "promotion" and refused to move up because she didn't want to be in this woman's class.

Now, I have no problem at all with her being strict with the girls (indeed, I wish a few more of them were, lol) and expecting them to work hard, but what I don't like are her strategies for what to do if you don't understand something.  It is a three step process. First, you reread the text book, or what is on the board.  Second, if that doesn't help, you ask a friend.  Third, you ask the teacher.  DD struggles with this because she doesn't like disturbing her friends if they are working, she doesn't like being asked by her friends if she is trying to work and she has sometimes been given incorrect explanations by friends who think they have understood, but haven't.  And DD will not ask the teacher, because she gets told to do stages one and two (even if she already has).

So, specific to my DD and her class, that is why she won't ask a question in maths!   I think she asks questions in other classes because they don't have the same three stage process in place, and because some of them (English, RS, history) seem a bit of a free for all with all sorts of opinions being aired and, I guess, an easier forum to ask a question without bringing attention to yourself.

Ds's year 7 form teacher reinforced that they MUST always ask if they don't understand something (in any lesson) as that is part of the learning process and the chances are that if you haven't understood it, others who don't want to admit it won't have either.

I remember, many years ago in my first year in High school, most of us were terrified of the very 'old school' maths teacher.  If anyone dared to question anything, his stock answer was "I'm not your nursemaid".  Now, of course, one would reply, "No but you are supposed to be a teacher ...."

Heh heh, one of my old maths teachers used to throw chalk at you if he deemed you stupid.  And that was just the girls, the boys would get the board rubber..

Leeds, I don't agree with that three stage system at all, for the reasons you say..friends can be wrong!

I can understand why kids won't want to draw attention to themselves during class, maybe a sort of 'open door' policy should be in place at certain times during the school day ( I realise this is probably much harder than I'm imagining mind) whereby pupils can drop by the teachers classroom if they have problems then the only other kids around would be ones who also had a problem so they'll all be in the same boat.

ursh x

When we were looking at senior schools for DD, one of them had an office with a big sign on the door saying something like "Maths Homework Help - Monday 12:30 -1, Tuesday 1 - 1:30 " etc.  I don't know whether this actually happened (DD's school seems to have a lot of signs which bear no relation to reality) but I have always remembered it because I thought it was a good idea!

OH has a maths degree so DD will ask him for help if she absolutely has to (she tries not to, because his explanations can be thorough, lol), but it is hard if he is away and unable to phone home and I don't know how to do a question.  Some I can do, but some topics I struggle with!

michael admin wrote:

Half of the 15- and 16-year-olds felt they should already know the answer.

I know it doesn't help, but I think they are right - they should already know the answer - but for whatever reason they only have the ability of an 11 year old.

That's pretty telling.  It means even the kids think the education system is failing them eh?

Aren't teachers supposed to check understanding as they go? Even the most hopeless teacher must have SOME idea of who is poor at maths and who is strong, so surely you direct your "checking questions" at the weaker pupils? Or have i got entirely the wrong end of the stick (as usual) and have no idea of the realities of modern teaching?

DD's maths lessons sound like a mad house to me.  I suspect the teacher may change her methods over the summer, when she realises that the students at DD's school are not as bright as the ones at her previous school.  And, maybe, the fact that she taught at an academic boys' school doesn't help.  Girls aren't quite as tough (I was but, sadly, DD isn't!).

But I would've thought checking understanding was a basic requirement too.