Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill has urged schoolchildren to use sport to make numeracy more fun and engaging.
The former heptathlete returned to her old high school in Sheffield, Yorks, to discuss the importance of numbers in later life, meeting with her former maths and PE teachers along with current pupils.
The visit comes after research by Santander UK revealed 43 per cent of Brits wish they had concentrated more on maths when they were at school.
And four in 10 parents avoid helping their children with homework because they know they will struggle.
A lack of confidence on the subject was also shown to have a negative impact later in life on people’s household finances such as budgeting and money management.
Jessica, who joins England cricket captain Joe Root and former world boxing champion Paul Jones among King Ecgbert School’s notable alumni, said integrating sport and numeracy is one of the best ways to stimulate schoolchildren and get them thinking about numbers in a completely different way.
She said: “At school level it has got to be relevant to them.
“I can remember doing algebra and thinking, ‘well I’m never going to use this’, and so dismissing it.
“But if you actually make it relevant to what they enjoy and the things they might face in later life then it becomes much more meaningful”.
The Santander UK ambassador journeyed back to her old school as part of The Numbers Game, an educational football-themed roadshow which aims to raise awareness on the importance of numeracy and the crucial role numbers play in our lives.
More than 200 year seven pupils took part in the challenge and achieved impressive results.
Maths teacher Christine Stott said: “It was great to see our year sevens so excited about doing the numeracy challenges because they were directly linked to UEFA Champions League football.
“It’s a very powerful way to engage the pupils with maths outside the conventional classroom”.
Jessica said hard work helped her get through school and a willingness to give it everything in spite of her gruelling training regime.
She went on to study psychology at university, something her former teacher Miss Stott puts down to her determination to succeed.
Describing Ennis-Hill as a “very modest, grounded, lovely girl”, she said she never let her blossoming athletics career get in the way of her studies, even though it was difficult at times.
She said: “I remember the greatest excuse for not doing some summer work was, ‘I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to complete this Miss but I was at a training camp in America for gifted athletes'”.
Returning to the school 15 years after she left, Jessica pointed out that children today face more challenges than previous generations with a lot of distractions to contend with, but believes sport can be a great way to detract from that.
She added: “Whether it’s football or athletics, sport is a universal language and an amazing way to reach people on important subjects.
“Changing people’s attitudes towards numeracy is so important.
“Santander’s Numbers Game roadshow is an innovative way of tapping into the emotional power of sport to promote numbers and maths.
“For me, whether it was calculating my score in the heptathlon, a personal best or just my finances at home, the numeracy skills I learned here at King Ecgbert School helped me to become confident using numbers.
“The opportunity to come back to my former school and use sport as a means to encourage pupils is a really valuable one.”
Jessica awarded pupils with a range of prizes including miniature UEFA Champions League trophies for the top-performing classes, crowning them ‘Champions of Numeracy’.
Headteacher, Paul Haigh, said: “It was a real honour to welcome Jessica back to King Ecgbert.
“Helping our pupils to approach the subject of numeracy in such an engaging and inspiring way, it’s an experience they won’t forget.”
Santander’s The Numbers Game roadshow will be visiting more cities and schools next year as part of the 2019-2020 UEFA Champions League season.
You can find out more and take the National Numeracy Challenge at www.santandernumbersgame.co.uk.