Attitudes to maths fixed by the age of 9

5th December 2008 at 00:00
Teachers find it hard to teach the subject as pupils become set in their views, a maths website has found

Children decide by the age of nine whether or not they like maths, and teachers will find it difficult to persuade them to change their minds after this age.

This is why large numbers of pupils leave primary school unable to complete simple maths problems, according to research for maths tutoring website

The site revealed that more than 90 per cent of children between the ages of six and eight said they liked or loved maths.

But this did not last: between the ages of nine and 12, fewer than 70 per cent liked or loved maths. And almost 15 per cent disliked it.

These attitudes were accompanied by a general indifference to their achievements in the subject. More than one in 10 pupils believed it did not matter whether or not they were any good at maths.

A spokeswoman for said: "The older the child, the less their feelings towards maths, and towards their own ability, are prone to change."

Older children's attitudes were very unlikely to change: those who disliked maths at the age of nine were unlikely to like it by the age of 12. And there was far less ambiguity among this age group: they had firm ideas about what they liked and disliked.

Richard Marett, chief executive of, said: "Being poor at maths is seen as okay in the UK, among both kids and adults. It's much cooler to excel in arts subjects than it is in maths. This attitude does nothing to raise attainment."

Forty four pupils between the ages of six and 12 were interviewed about their attitudes towards maths for the survey.

But Tony Gardiner, reader in mathematics at Birmingham University and past president of the Mathematics Association, insisted it was inevitable that some pupils would always dislike the subject.

"Negative responses are unavoidable," he said. "Mathematics does slap you down. You get things wrong and you can't fudge things. None of us likes being wrong.

"Essentially, the numeracy strategy has taken high achievement for the bottom pupils as meaning forcing them through hoops. But if you force someone through hoops without being willing to stop and help them improve their hoop-jumping, you increase the risk of alienation."

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