Report: The Fear Factor

Maths Action Report: The Fear Factor
Suns of Seven Circles Shine, 2014, by Gillian Ayres. Reproduced by kind permission of Gillian Ayres RA, CBE and Alan Cristea Gallery, London

This report looks at attitudes to maths and why Maths Anxiety continues to prevail among women and girls.

Mathematics – maths – is a social justice issue: around one in five adults in the UK lack even basic numeracy skills without which they find it difficult to budget and make money stretch as far as possible; they feel stressed and insecure about money regardless of their income, and they struggle to overcome barriers to progression in work. Yet senior educationalists agree that it is culturally acceptable, especially for women, to say, ‘I hate maths, I was never any good with numbers’.

As well as awareness that the relationship between females and maths is typically not a happy one, there is also a growing sense that something needs to be done about it. Even though girls outperform boys at school overall, closer inspection reveals they lag behind when it comes to this indispensible subject. There is a deep-seated and widespread belief that boys are born with an ability to do maths, whereas girls are not. Yet there is no biological reason or evidence from research to support this belief.

The Maths Myth, which drives the fear factor for many women and girls, needs to be publicly identified as a remaining injustice of patriarchy; then it needs to be demolished.

Maths Action Report: The Fear FactorDownload the paper: The Fear Factor: Maths Anxiety in girls and women, by Samantha Callan, a report commissioned by Maths Action.


Nicky Morgan, MP As both Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, I’m determined to ensure that there are no barriers to women taking part in and succeeding in STEM subjects and careers. When girls with the potential to succeed in maths and the sciences at school are deterred from pursuing them, it’s not just those young women who lose out, but the entire country’s international competitiveness. This report is a welcome contribution to the debate on how to tackle maths misconceptions with clear recommendations on how all aspects of society can play their part in doing so.
Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities

Sir Gary CooperThe report The Fear Factor makes a major contribution to breaking the ‘Maths Myth’ that girls and women are less competent than boys and men in maths. As a father of three girls, I have seen this stereotype in action, and how it can inhibit educational choices. Maths and statistics are an integral part of many aspects of life and the sooner we get rid of this myth the better, so girls and women can make life decisions without the ‘Fear Factor’. I strongly support this report, knowing it will make a significant difference to educational policy and practice.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, CBE, The 50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School, University of Manchester& Co-Editor of Women in Management (Volumes 1 & 2)

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