Citizen Maths

Citizen Maths is a free and open online maths course,  using the concept of five 'powerful ideas in action'. 

Too often, when children share their worries about maths, parents shrug and say: “Don’t worry, I was never any goods at maths anyway.”

This common parental response, with its implicit acknowledgement of the low status of maths in UK culture, is a major obstacle to improving maths education. And it has led to many students missing out on maths qualifications. 

These adults are the target of the innovative Citizen Maths service in its mission to help them develop the skills they missed out on while at school.  

It’s a double challenge. Struggling with maths at school is anything but a pleasant experience so these potential students have good reason to hold strong negative feelings. Many of them are lower down the employment scale and need courses they can access in their own time, and at a pace that suits them.  

Funded by the UFI Charitable Trust, Citizen Maths is an open online course to help people improve their grasp of maths at level two. The purpose of that is to give them the ability to use maths with confidence in their working and social lives.  

An online course gives students privacy and provides great flexibility of access. 

Citizen Maths has been developed by Calderdale College, the UCL Institute of Education and OCR, with advice from the Google Course Builder team. Citizen Maths is unique in that it has been carefully designed to have very low long term running costs, to ensure its sustainability; and to make it realistic for it to remain free to learners in the long term. It is here for the long haul as it builds its community of users and relationships with the partners who will help sustain it.  

Project director Seb Schmoller is quietly confident of that sustainability. They used technology that is “genuinely cheap”, and “the finished service has been designed to continue into the future with 'virtually no financial fuel'”. This is extremely important for this particular client group, people who feel that education has already let them down. 

The project originally had agreement to partner with one of the major global MOOC providers, which would have given immediate access to a big community of online learners and these learners own contacts. But this didn’t work out. 

But this setback was not fatal to Citizen Maths. The Ufi Trust was sufficiently impressed with the underlying concept to fund the project without the involvement of a global MOOC provider. And Citizen Maths has picked up thousands of users and is building mutually beneficial relationships with teachers, further education colleges and even with the British Army. The intention is, eventually, to involve tens of thousands of users. 

However, Seb Schmoller is far too practical to bank on what could be. The course units and the system are being honed to meet the needs of learners. Adult learners don’t want to be patronised; neither do they want to encounter language they are unfamiliar with. So great care has been taken with the way the units are framed, the language used, and the scenarios covered.. 

The units are structured around “powerful ideas in action” and the context is everyday life. So the rich mix of video, apps and quizzes deals with situations at work or home that everyone is familiar with. The first three powerful ideas – Proportion went live in Autumn 2014, with Uncertainty and Representation added in Autumn 2015. The final two - Pattern and Measurement – went live in June 2016.  

 However, despite having no budget for conventional advertising or marketing (the use social media and media coverage), or a MOOC partner with learning communities to connect to Citizen Maths has attracted more than 14,000 people to complete the self-assessment of registration and of those more than 6,000 have signed up for Citizen Maths.  

More than 2,000 have registered – with an increased weekly rate of sign-up - since the addition of the final two “powerful ideas” and, together with the developing community of "learning partners" (most in FE, but also The Army, and the TUC), this bodes well for the future. They play an active part giving feedback on Citizen Maths that helps the team, and they can be influential in recommending their own learners to use Citizen Maths.  

Put these together with the sustainable technology that underpins Citizen Maths and you see a project that is building roots for its realistic aspirations. 

The whole system is built on open-source licensing so any organisation could work with Citizen Maths to have its own version. Or a country. Uruguay has already expressed an interest. 

But the aspect that impresses most is the passion, drive and care that has been poured into designing an online system that is appropriate and effective for its target - a substantial group of learners who have been let down and disadvantaged by their education.    @citizenmaths


Project partners

Calderdale College is the largest provider of further education courses and work-based learning and the sole provider of higher education awards in Calderdale, a Metropolitan Borough in West Yorkshire centred on Halifax -

The Institute of Education is part of the University College London with an international reputation for its education research. IOE is a centre of excellence for research into mathematics education and into technology-enhanced learning -

OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations) is part of Cambridge Assessment and a leading UK awarding body. OCR provides qualifications for people of all ages and abilities at school, college, in work or through part-time learning programmes -


Citizen Maths runs from July 2013 until the end of 2016. The first section of the course was available from September 2014, with the subsequent sections available from Autumn 2015. The full course went live in June 2016.

Contact us or find out more

From the Citizen Maths website you can access extensive further information, a contact form, FAQs, as well as start the process of signing up for Citizen Maths.