Iesha Small

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What is the point of Maths? A maths teachers’ unexpected response

What’s the point of maths? The question that every maths teacher will hear at some point in their teaching lives. After 14 years of teaching maths I have an unexpectedly creative response.

Taken at The National Cinema Museum, Turin, Italy.

The question that every maths teacher will be asked

If you are a maths teacher or have ever taught maths, you will have been asked a question on the variation of “I won’t need this in my job, what’s the point of maths?”

I have responded to this question in a variety of ways over the years. Sometimes I give specific examples of where maths is useful. Occasionally, I enquire why pupils always ask that of maths but not of other subjects where it might equally apply. Often, I speak about the need to pass knowledge on from generation to generation – as the intellectual legacy of mankind- even if particular individuals won’t need the specific knowledge. Sometimes I’ll state that we don’t yet know which of the young people in our school will be the engineer or designer or scientist that will need this knowledge in their future life.  More than once, I will suggest that the logical conclusion of this particular argument is that only rich and wealthy people will need an education (mathematical or otherwise) beyond basic reading writing and numeracy as the majority of the people won’t need the specifics facts learnt in school in their jobs.

Leaving teaching means reflection

In September 2018, for the first time in 14 years, I won’t be teaching maths to my own classes. In fact, I won’t be teaching at all, as I’ve recently resigned my teaching post.  I very rarely write about maths and my own classroom teaching on this blog, it’s generally about leadership and wider issues relevant to those in the education sector but coming to the end of something has a habit of making you reflect.  I’ve revisited my personal thoughts about education and whether the number one shift I hoped to see in the English educational system is any closer to being a reality. I’ve also thought specifically about my own teaching. When I recently reflected on my time teaching maths an unexpectedly poetic response to the question “what is maths and what’s the point of it?” poured out of me

Maths is…





More than numeracy

Broader than arithmetic

Every number you can conceive and then some more



The language of science

How we describe and model the universe

Not just for elites

Imaginary and real

Describing objects in motion without the need for prose

The size of an electron

The width of our galaxy

Internet security




The structure of music

Maths is the underlying structure and poetry that explains our universe

Maths is the intellectual entitlement of all mankind

What next?

If you teach maths or have ever taught maths let me know what maths is for you. If you’ve never seen the point of maths let me know what you think about my points above.

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What is the point of Maths? A maths teachers’ unexpected response