Author: Liv Pilgrim-Swann

Scholar Research: Maths Anxiety

Maths anxiety is defined as a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in ordinary life and academic situations.

Current research has shown that:

  • Maths anxiety is seen in around 10% of pupils1
  • More prevalent in female pupils than males2
  • Maths anxiety has a significant impact on performance in maths, particularly in secondary school2.

It has also been found that maths causes anxiety and avoidance in students more so than any other subject3.


Awareness of maths anxiety and impact on pupils

I believed that this was a very important topic, especially considering the correlation between maths anxiety and performance. Furthermore, research has highlighted that there is very little training about maths anxiety4. I devised a questionnaire for pupils in secondary schools as well as a questionnaire for teachers to investigate maths anxiety in pupils and to see how teachers perceive maths anxiety.

In the pupils’ questionnaire, I looked at what factors have an impact on maths anxiety. I found that, like the previous research suggests, gender plays a significant role in maths anxiety, with females reporting on average almost twice as many anxiety inducing factors. Furthermore, the lower the grade the pupil reported getting, the more items they reported feel anxious about. I also found some results that have not yet been investigated in the literature. I found that the number of items pupils reported feel anxious about significantly affects whether a pupil wishes to carry on doing maths after GCSE and how happy a pupil would feel doing maths in a job in the future. Maths anxiety also significantly impacts how confident the pupil is in maths and how much they enjoy the subject.

Clearly the results show that maths anxiety impacts so much more than just the progress that a pupil makes in maths. It affects a pupil’s confidence and enjoyment of the subject, as well as potentially resulting in a lifelong impaired relationship with maths. 3% of the pupils that I surveyed said that they would turn down a job in the future if maths was involved; this equates to over 200,000 secondary school aged pupils in England.

Maths anxiety is something to be aware of in the classroom. I investigated the factors that pupils reported feeling most anxious about. Somewhat unsurprisingly, pupils reported feeling most anxious about test and exam related issues. However, over 40% of pupils also reported feeling anxious when the teacher asked them questions in front of the class, and over 30% reported feeling anxious doing a word problem in maths.

The teacher questionnaires highlighted how little awareness teachers have of maths anxiety. In fact, over 20% of maths teachers either had never heard of maths anxiety, or had heard of it, but didn’t know anything else about it. Over 65% of teachers felt more training on maths anxiety would be beneficial. It is concerning how prevalent maths anxiety appears to be, and yet it is unknown to so many teachers.

So what can be done?

One of the biggest things that I believe could make a big difference is being aware of maths anxiety as a teacher. By knowing the impact of maths anxiety, we can better understand the need to educate ourselves on this. Researchers have suggested that to reduce maths anxiety, teachers should:

  • Show that they enjoy maths5
  • Show the use of maths in careers and everyday life5,6
  • Adapt the teaching of maths to the interests of pupils7
  • Avoid unnecessary time pressures in the classroom7

This corroborates with the findings of my study; 33% of pupils said that making maths relate more to real life would reduce their maths anxiety and 28% said that having more time to practice and learn maths would reduce their anxiety.

Overall, it is clear that much more needs to be done in the training of maths teachers regarding maths anxiety, and there is still a long way to go in finding out how maths anxiety can be best dealt with. However, the four points above are small and simple ways that teachers may be able to reduce maths anxiety in the classroom.


Below is a report from the Pearson Power of Maths Roundtable if you are interested in finding out more:








(1) Carey, E., Devine, A., Hill, F., Dowker, A., McLellan, R., & Szucs, D. (2019). Understanding Mathematics Anxiety: Investigating the experiences of UK primary and secondary school students.

(2) Hill, F., Mammarella, I. C., Devine, A., Caviola, S., Passolunghi, M. C., & Szűcs, D. (2016). Maths anxiety in primary and secondary school students: Gender differences, developmental changes and anxiety specificity. Learning and Individual Differences, 48, 45-53.

(3) Shore, K. (2005). Dr. Ken Shore’s classroom problem solvermath anxiety. Retrieved June 30, 2021, from

(4) Pearson, (2020). A Guide To Tackling Maths Anxiety. Power of Maths Roundtable. p.

(5) Rossnan, S. (2006). Overcoming math anxiety. Mathitudes, 1(1), 1-4.

(6) Curtain-Phillips, M. (2001). The Causes and Prevention of Math Anxiety.. Retrieved from:

(7) Woolfolk, A.E. (1995), Educational psychology (6th edition): Allyn and Bacon

Teaching during the pandemic

It has been a difficult year for everyone, but despite these challenges it has been encouraging to hear some inspiring stories from Scholars that have continued to not only develop and thrive themselves, but also to support their own students and their colleagues.

Our Scholars Felicia Hebbes, Jessica Robinson, Tom Habing and Sophie Jeropoulos gave us some insights into how the pandemic affected their schools.

How has your school adapted to lockdowns, self-isolation, and remote teaching?

Felicia Hebbes: “My school made an incredible adjustment when the lockdowns began and, despite the unprecedented circumstances, continued to support both staff and students to carry on with a sense of structure and normality. In the first lockdown, I was finishing my second term as a trainee teacher, so I finished my training year by developing my skills remotely. Though not what we expected, I thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to do a range of independent professional development courses whilst designing independent work for students to complete at home.”

Tom Habing: “The transfer to online learning was both strange and yet familiar. Although the method of delivery had changed, I found the fundamental skills of teaching to be exactly the same no matter the delivery method. I immensely enjoyed trialling different teaching styles and using technology to my advantage to make my lessons as interactive as they could possibly be.”

 Sophie Jeropoulos: “COVID-19 was scary for a lot of people. Lots of children were anxious, some did not want to come to school because they were scared, others wanted to come in to school, because the thought of being at home was simply too much! Luckily, it was all handled very well by our school community – we had the school open for children of key workers and vulnerable students. These students, and the staff supervising them, were tested weekly to ensure safety and teaching and learning was remote for the most part.

The students followed their timetable and knew which of their lessons were live lessons, on Teams in our case, or remote. The students were trained on how to use Teams in the Autumn term by their computing teachers to prepare for the event of another lockdown, which they all found useful.”


Reflecting on the last year, has anything changed in your teaching life?

Felicia: “There are so many positive things that I have taken from the recent months! For example, over the recent lockdown, I explored ways to manage my workload through self-marking assessment tools that can be utilised back in the classroom. Also, when teaching over video calls, I began to think very carefully about my clarity in lessons and was constantly considering how I could ensure the students knew exactly what I wanted them to do at all times. This reflection is something that I have definitely been able to translate to the classroom.”

 Jessica Robinson: “The impact that it had on my teaching is that I learnt so much about technology and new ways to do things. Another is that I tried new ways to teach things to make them more accessible to pupils when they were at home.

The lockdown allowed me to reorganise my priorities and leave my work at work! The lockdown also gave me the opportunity to do lots of CPD, make my classroom cute with new displays and I also joined the Institute Of Physics early careers mentoring programme which I find really useful and supportive.”

Tom: “I have noticed that many of my younger students have become far more independent thinkers as during lockdown; they could not ask me questions every time they got stuck. This has made them far better problem solvers during class.

The best part of my job is talking to students and colleagues every day. Collecting and sharing stories. Inventing new and weird ways for students to visualise the world of maths. I feel very lucky to have my hobby as my career.”

 Sophie: “Patience, patience, patience. The children are still adapting to their new environment. They just came out of lockdown and now have brand new expectations. Be patient and kind with them, they will come around. Also remember that nothing is permanent. A bad lesson does not make you a bad teacher. Take the time to reflect and improve for next time. This is a very demanding job, don’t let the day-to-day pressure take away from the joy you have when you are teaching.”