A Learning Skills Foundation Sister Organisation


The Maths Anxiety Trust works to eliminate anxiety about Maths



"Who in Britain knows most about Maths Anxiety? asked Shirley Conran of two mathematicians, both previous advisers to the Government on the Maths Curriculum. With one voice, the two mathematicians said, Sue Johnston-Wilder!"


Associate Professor Johnston-Wilder works in the Centre for Education Studies at the University of Warwick, where she lectures, writes, researches and organizes conferences for students and teachers on overcoming Maths Anxiety, often working with Dr. Clare Lee of the Open University.


Their slogan is, Maths Anxiety is acquired, disabling and treatable.


Johnston-Wilder agrees with Professor Jo Boaler that maths, more than any other subject, has the power to crush childrens confidence and to deter them from learning important methods and tools for many years to come.

From November 2015 to July 2016, Johnston-Wilder and other educational specialists from Warwick University ran a series of one day courses for Further Education teachers, many of whom work as teachers of numeracy or in FE institutions for low-achieving pupils who need extra tuition. There are few maths specialists in FE and levels of Maths Anxiety are high in many FE teachers.

The subsequent Paper – which reported on these courses – was presented virtually to the Annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation in November, 2016 at Seville, Spain. The aim of this Warwick Course was to develop teachers who know explicitly how to develop Maths Resilience in learners and, by developing a group culture of 'can do' mathematics, to counter the prevalent culture of Maths Anxiety and maths helplessness in the Western population.

Resilience has been defined as, 'Both the capacity to bend without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back'. It can be an advantage to learn, early in life, to aim to recover and continue on a positive path after a minor setback [getting bad marks] or when faced with a major adversity [being knifed].


The term, 'Mathematical Resilience' grew out of the wider psychological construct of general resilience and it is built on established ideas and research. Johnston-Wilder has written, "Maths Resilience is not a new theory; it is a model rooted in the work of Dweck, Vygotsky, Swann, William, Freudenthal, Bruner, Bandura and Mason. It is an effective and pragmatic structure for raising awareness".

‘We have found that the ideas encapsulated by Mathematical Resilience speak to learners, teachers, parents and others entrusted with overseeing mathematical learning in society.

Maths Resilience consists of five positive attributes which enable learners to engage with, learn and use maths, both at school and beyond. They are briefly: understanding the personal value of maths – which provides motivation; having a good attitude to learning, which involves determination and leads to self-confidence; encouraging a growth mindset; understanding how to work hard; and knowing where to find suitable support.

Maths Resilience can free the learner from the anxiety that is in part caused by teaching to test and instead, ensure that learners thoroughly understand each step of any procedure.

Maths Resilience aims at a can-do positive attitude that empowers and energises students. “Can-do ‘recognizes that it takes time and patience to understand a new concept, and it takes more time to practice it – like the piano, like kicking football goals, like athletics or dancing.

Once students have learned to overcome emotional barriers to learning mathematics, they also acquire empowerment and control. To see their excitement is a joyous and rewarding experience. When you solve a problem, your brain may reward you with a small shot of dopamine, which may account for the happy ‘I got it!’ air punch, which is also a joyous reward for the teacher.

e: sue.johnston-wilder@warwick.ac.uk

The Maths Anxiety Trust © 2020