Maths Anxiety (2) by @mathscraftgame

Exploring the anxiety surrounding children.

In today’s post, we are going to briefly discuss the 3 main reasons why Maths anxiety could occur:

  1. Teachers’ anxiety
  2. Parents’ anxiety
  3. Teaching to test

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Prathap Chandran and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Teachers’ anxiety

While this is probably not as common as the other two reasons, and most teachers, as a rule of thumb, overcome their anxiousness rather quickly early in their career, I just briefly wanted to mention this, before moving on to discuss more prevalent causes.

I am not a qualified teacher (I’m a volunteer tutor), so I can’t speak for the rest of the NQT’s, but I have plenty of teacher friends of mine who could identify with the kind of anxiousness issues I faced in my first few months in my classroom. In my case, my anxiousness did not necessarily stem from the lack of knowledge in the subject area, but from the lack of teaching toolset I needed to have, to teach them effectively. I’ve been a tutor for close to a year now, and I’m just beginning to learn the ropes. I’m lucky though, as I have an amazing class teacher who I work with, who makes up for my shortcomings.

As for my NQT friends, they are some of the smartest people I’ve known. But still, when it comes to actual classroom practice, their first year seems to stress them the most, as they go about figuring out how to apply the practices they have learnt in the classroom.

Parents’ anxiety

Adults who have not had access to the best maths education practices growing up, tend to be anxious about their maths skills, which could also affect their child’s affinity towards maths. In the UK, 4 in 5 adults have a low level of numeracy, according to a report from National Numeracy. A study conducted by the University of Chicago on 438 children aged 6-8 found that parents, who felt anxious about using maths but provided frequent help at home, slowed their child’s progress due to being less confident in explaining mathematical concepts.

Teaching to test

This, according to me, is probably the biggest factor contributing to maths anxiety amongst young children. If you’ve read Jo Boaler’s Elephant in the classroom, you might remember the monster the child drew when asked to draw about how she felt about maths.

I have observed this in my classroom as well – my students find assessments stressful, and barring the best performing children, almost every student thinks of it as a yardstick by which their self worth is measured. At such a young age, it’s hard for them to see their shortcomings as an opportunity to improve. This is where, I think, the teacher’s role becomes critical – in assuring the child that assessments are reflection of progress, not personality.

At our school, we try our best to encourage children to use their formative assessment scores as feedback tools, but it becomes a much harder sell when SATs are approaching. I can’t think of a easy way to address this – I’d love to hear your thoughts no this issue.

What do you think are the causes of Maths anxiety? And do you have any best practices I could learn from when it comes to keeping children motivated as SATs approach?


Prathap is part of the Mathcraft team, who you can follow on Twitter…



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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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