Schoolgirls and a teacher look at numerals
Does girls’ lack of confidence in maths hamper their career prospects? © Getty Images

Rishi Sunak’s national drive to improve UK maths skills needs to offer extra support to boost the confidence of women and girls, says a leading numeracy charity.

In a report published on Thursday, National Numeracy said lower maths confidence among females had hampered their career prospects as it sought a more tailored approach to the government’s planned extension to mandatory maths education. The charity also called for additional support for young people and the unemployed.

Findings published in the wake of the prime minister’s latest speech, in which he set out his ambitions for reforming maths education, showed that working-aged women were as likely as men to hold a secondary school level maths qualification.

But when surveyed, they expressed lower confidence. On a sliding scale from one to 10, women, on average, rated their confidence at 6.5 versus 8.2 for men.

“We need to address the gender confidence gap, because it could make a real difference,” said Sam Sims, chief executive of National Numeracy. “If we do require every young person to do some form of maths until the age of 18, we’ve got to take specific actions to address these challenges.”

Government plans, announced at the start of the year, include the prospect of introducing a new school-equivalent qualification for adult learners, and to extend mandatory maths education to all 16 to 18-year-olds.

National Numeracy, known for running the National Numeracy Challenge, said about half the working age population had numeracy skills equivalent to a primary school leaver.

Speaking at the report’s launch on Wednesday, former social mobility commissioner Sandra Wallace said it was vital that the government approached the matter seriously. “[Low levels of numeracy] continue to be a barrier and hold people back in their careers and progression.”

Lower maths attainment and number confidence is estimated to cost the UK economy upwards of £25bn a year, according to think-tank Pro Bono Economics. National Numeracy said the UK lags behind other OECD countries.

“Women aren’t achieving the financial and career outcomes they deserve,” said Lucy-Marie Hagues, UK head at credit card provider Capital One, who will sit on the panel advising the government on maths reform. Despite girls outperforming boys in GCSE and A-levels, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reports only 37 per cent of students studying a maths-related subject at degree level are women.

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