Rishi Sunak Can't Solve a Maths Issue Without a Reading Emphasis

rishi sunak in front of a podium that reads 'grow the economy' giving a speech

This week, we hear again that the government is to place significant emphasis on the importance of teaching maths. We hear Rishi Sunak wants to ‘end the anti-maths mindset’ in order to ‘help the economy grow’.

But what’s maths without reading?

What’s maths without the ability to decipher questioning?

What’s maths without an understanding of how to unpick multi-word challenges?

The truth is, reading is absolutely imperative and, without it, even those students with great mathematical potential, will have a far more difficult time in ‘decoding’ that which is asked of them.

In its guidance, Mathematics GCSE Subject Content and Assessment Objectives, the Department for Education (DfE) states that GCSE Mathematics examinations should enable pupils to “comprehend, interpret and communicate mathematical information in a variety of forms appropriate to the information and context”. (Literacy’s role in boosting maths outcomes, Maria Howard).


“Reducing the complexity of language in assessments has been shown to particularly improve the attainment of certain key groups in the subject, including low- and middle-ability learners” (Abedi & Lord, 2010).

So, let’s think for a moment of the language of maths assessments.

In the 2022 KS2 reasoning papers, here are some of the words students would have to be able to read and understand:

  • translation
  • transformation
  • hexagonal prism
  • multiplications
  • equivalent
  • represent
  • cuboid
  • pictogram
  • circumference

The list goes on...

Yes, there's mathematical knowledge that pupils should know, and will have been taught over KS2, but if you can't read or make sense of the vocabulary, you're not going to get the marks.

Some of the words on the 2022 Edexel GCSE Maths papers are:

  • probability
  • enlargement
  • parallelograms
  • composite
  • quadrilateral
  • probability

Again, the list goes on.

When it comes to arithmetic, you're kind of dealing with absolutes. When it comes to reasoning though, you must apply your knowledge and demonstrate the ability to apply your knowledge. For me, this is close to the realms of inference and deduction. How can you infer meaning and draw conclusions if you can't read?

Next, think for a moment about how many words in subjects such as maths have multiple meanings.

Consider the likes of: factor, volume and prime.

In order to assist a young person in decoding mathematical challenges, we must aid their ability to interpret what is being asked in the ultimate question or task.

At Lexonik, this is where we rate the adoption of explicit vocabulary instruction, where words and their meanings are reinforced and explicitly taught via morphemic analysis. Over time, students gain knowledge of language, ultimately leading them to be independent learners and thinkers. The first stage, however, is to empower all teachers to explicitly teach vocabulary, which is why so many schools now choose Lexonik Vocabulary Plus as the teacher’s classroom tool.

What sits at the route of all learning is confidence, alongside confident delivery of teaching.

Our testimonials and evidential data prove time and again that when the right approach is used, a young person gains the belief in themselves to naturally achieve more.

So, while the government’s intention is not in itself in any way a bad thing, and while we understand a desire to emphasise the importance of mathematics, we do stress the need to tread carefully and with consideration, as to how this strategy is deployed.

As a country, we want to see more adults encouraged into the world of teaching and the desire to remain in such a career.

In so doing, they need to see that they can make a difference to students in the classroom, and these children need to be made to feel more confident about their accomplishments, and hungrier to learn.

The answer is not in creating obligations of any lesson genre, but to create an approach and a passion which generates a desire to continue learning as part of a lifelong legacy.

We would love to know what you think.

Have you taught maths and considered reading and literacy to be a more vital component than was ever previously considered?

Did your maths suffer because of your inability to read?

Did you tackle reading, and find other subjects became much easier?

Do share with us what you think and how you’ve experienced the alignment between maths and reading.

Or if you’re interested in introducing literacy interventions that can have an impact across the whole school contact us here.