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One in five parents suffer from arithmophobia

  • Maths homework brings out the arithmophobe in the best of us, one in five parents with children aged 6-16 completely avoid it as they’re scared of numeracy. When they do, 52% admit they get it wrong
  • A third of parents (29%) struggle to help with maths homework for children aged six to nine. 28% admit they can no longer help when their child goes to secondary school
  • Some (17%) tell their children to ask their maths teacher for more help and don’t get involved - more than a tenth avoid it as they’re embarrassed to admit they lack numeracy skills.  18% go online to find the answers
  • One in four parents could not teach their children basic addition and subtraction without a calculator. 40% admit they wouldn’t be able to show them how to split a restaurant bill with friends
  • OUBS continues to champion financial education with University Challenge star Bobby Seagull and Martin Lewis. Managing my Money for Young Adults is designed to combat arithmophobia at a key time in life. It gives young people an education in essential finance so they can manage money with confidence

New research[1] released by The Open University Business School’s (OUBS) dedicated research centre The True Potential Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance, reveals that despite 84% of parents admitting that maths is the most important school subject to help in everyday life, almost a third couldn’t help their children with maths homework beyond the age of nine. In fact, one in ten couldn’t master a seven year olds maths curriculum. Despite this, 19% of parents concede they wouldn’t be willing to study to improve their maths skills in order to help their children with their homework. When parents do help, more than half (52%) get their children’s maths homework wrong.

Some parents struggle to pass on basic numeracy skills

When it comes to everyday numeracy parents are struggling to pass on basic skills with one in five citing arithmophobia as the biggest issue they face. Adding and subtracting without a calculator is a skill one in four (24%) parents wouldn’t be able to pass on. This is also the case when it comes to teaching children how to split a bill with friends in a restaurant (40%) or simply working out best value items in the supermarket (45%). It’s no great surprise that basic household finance would also be a challenge to pass on as 52% couldn’t show children how to find the best value gas and electricity, best mortgage (62%) or interest charges on a loan (71%) or credit card (66%).

Image of Martin Upton

Whilst it seems shocking that parents cannot help children as young as nine with their maths homework, arithmophobia or a fear of numeracy will have debilitating side effects in so many other aspects of their everyday lives. For these parents, a basic understanding of numeracy is essential for all financial decisions. If this is overshadowed by fear, it’s safe to assume most of these parents will be taking a head in the sand approach to their finances and simply hope for the best. We’ve already attracted 125,000 learners to our foundation courses, we really hope to help more people face their fears and take control.

Martin Upton
Director of the True Potential Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance at The Open University Business School

To combat this growing problem, OUBS has joined forces with University Challenge star and Arithmophobia Expert, Bobby Seagull, and MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis, to champion a free[2] course designed for the financial education needs of young people from the age of 13. Managing My Money for Young Adults, which is funded by The Chartered Accountants’ Livery Company, is perfect for parents and teachers alike to brush up on everyday numeracy skills they can pass onto young adults. It provides 24 hours of learning broken into eight bite-sized sessions, to offer a strong foundation of personal finance knowledge.

The Managing My Money programme is designed for young adults. However, if parents work through the programme with their children, it is sure to benefit them as well. This in turn will give them more confidence with everyday numeracy that they can pass onto their children. In effect it’s a form of reverse mentoring where both parties learn together and a positive association with numbers and maths will be passed onto the next generation. A massive boost to Financial Literacy for all.

Clive Parritt
Master of The Chartered Accountants’ Livery Company

In just 24 hours parents can learn about all the pitfalls their children can fall into, whilst educating themselves on:

  • Earning money and understanding tax
  • Savvy shopping and budgeting
  • Preparing for life after school
  • Living in shared households
  • Understanding debt and how to borrow wisely
  • Credit ratings and how to protecting them
  • Planning for later life such as buying a home and pensions.

Each session contains video content featuring University Challenge star Bobby Seagull. These videos cover topics such as; student loans, credit ratings, living in shared rentals and being a ‘switcher’ rather than a loyal customer.

Image of Bobby Seagull

As a maths teacher this is a challenge I face every day. We don’t expect every parent to step up to more advanced GCSE maths, but teaching everyday numeracy at home from an early age is essential.  Whilst it is our job to educate pupils, the more support we can get from parents to make the next generation comfortable with numbers the better. Arithmophobia is a topic I have studied extensively and to see it being passed through generations is simply perpetuating poor financial decisions.

Bobby Seagull
University Challenge star and Arithmophobia Expert

Click for more information or to register on the course


  1. The research was carried out on behalf of OUBS with Research Without Barriers amongst 1,019 UK parents with children aged 6-16. The survey was conducted between 14 and 17 September 2018.
  2. The course is completely free of charge on the OpenLearn Platform. If the course is completed on FutureLearn there is a £32 fee for the final test and certificate but you also receive mentoring throughout.
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