Why is maths a core subject at school?

Some areas of maths are clearly useful in everyday life, but when was the last time you used Pythagoras’ Theorem, drew a quadratic graph, or proved that the sum of the first n integers is ½n(n+1)?

It might be more helpful to consider what it means to be mathematician. A great mathematician is logical, breaking complex questions down by systemising and spotting patterns. Being good at maths means being able to abstract ideas, draw connections, apply knowledge and solve problems. Mathematicians must then communicate their findings in logical, easy to follow ways. These are all real life skills and are transferable to every part of life; any time you make an informed decision you are being a mathematician.

These skills may sound daunting, but I always tell children at the Dragon that mathematicians are lazy; we look for short cuts and break things down into simple steps to make things easier. We want to write down as little as we can so we must be succinct and to the point – we have even invented our own language, algebra, so we can replace words like ‘variable’ and ‘unknown’ with a single letter.

Communication is the part of maths many children find the most challenging, either explaining in words or trying to transfer their thoughts to paper. I think the most useful way a parent can help a child with their maths is to ask them to explain it to them. You do not have to be a skilled mathematician yourself to ask your child ‘what did you do in maths today?’. They may find this a difficult question to answer – the first answer you will probably get is ‘I don’t know’, as they realise that it is difficult to explain! But keep asking, because in explaining maths to you they are explaining it to themselves.

Dr Emily Macmillan
Head of Maths