Escape the classroom and love maths

Nesta and Tata team up to encourage students to love maths through their Cracking the Code challenge to design an escape room

Nesta, the innovation foundation, in partnership with Tata group and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), has launched a national competition for schools to ignite a love of maths among UK pupils. Inspired by ‘The Crystal Maze,’ and growth of ‘escape rooms’ the Cracking the Code challenge calls on 11 to 14 year olds of all abilities to design their own escape room. Winners will see their idea brought to life and will receive £2,000 to support maths programmes in their school.

Despite efforts, attitudes to and attainment in maths are poor in the UK. With a general acceptance that it’s OK to say, ‘I just can’t do maths’ or ‘I’m rubbish at maths’. This has led to a situation where the UK is not as good at maths as it should be. Maths is the foundation of learning and achievement in science, technology and engineering, yet UK teenagers came 27th in the OECD’s most recent Programme for International Student Assessment’s (PISA) international rankings for maths.

Last month’s Budget included the announcement of a £177 million investment to improve maths education. Nesta research shows that solving mathematical problems with others can reinforce knowledge and improve attainment. This should be incorporated into the way young people experience maths.

These more complex, human skills will be ever more important in an increasingly automated workplace. This has been recognised by PISA, who last month released international rankings for collaborative problem solving for the first time – alongside its existing rankings for maths, science and reading. Cracking the Code aims to get more kids problem-solving together, and passionate about maths, whilst developing teaching resources that are accessible to everyone.

Taking part in the competition will encourage the use of skill, imagination, logic, problem-solving and teamwork. – Amy Solder, Project Lead, Education, Nesta

Pupils across the UK are invited to participate in Cracking the Code challenge through their school and the call for entries is now open. Those who sign up will be asked to both solve and create mathematically-based puzzles, games and riddles which could be used in ‘escape room’ scenarios. These activities have been designed by experts to inspire and engage students in an interactive environment for fun-based learning.

For more information and to register teams from schools, teachers should visit

Amy Solder, Project Lead, Education at Nesta says: “We have been working with educators and mathematicians to develop the Cracking the Code challenge, developing activities that will capture the imaginations of students, whilst equipping them with the skills they will need for the future and creating useful and easy-to-use resources for teachers. Taking part in the competition will encourage the use of skill, imagination, logic, problem-solving and teamwork.”

David Landsman, Executive Director at Tata Limited says: “The Tata group has over 65,000 people in the UK working in businesses from salt to steel, tea to IT, and premium cars to luxury hotels. Maths skills are absolutely vital to our people in every single one of our companies. But maths is also a vital tool for everyone, regardless of what you do or how old you are. We want our partnership with Nesta to be part of the UK-wide effort to improve the nation’s maths skills. I’m delighted that TCS – which offers many opportunities in the technologies of the future – is part of this initiative.”

How it will work:

Stage One: Cracking the Code: Maths Mission – Escape the Classroom now – 31st January

  • Students form teams to tackle a series of logic puzzles, crack the codes and ‘escape the classroom’ before time runs out! 

Stage Two: Inspiration day at the Science Museum – 1st February

  • School teams are invited to attend the inspiration day on 1 February at the Science Museum, London, to learn about the competition, be inspired by maths experts, have a go at code-breaking puzzles in their teams and begin working on their escape rooms. 

Stage three: Submit entries – 15th March

  • Student teams submit their entries  detailing their escape room concepts and mathematical puzzle questions.

Stage Four: Finalists and Awards’ Event – 16th April – June

  • The best 10 entries will receive a bursary to go to an escape room and will get support from a mentor. Teams will demonstrate their puzzles to the judges at the final event in May 2018.
  • The judges will choose a winner who will receive £2,000 for their school to support maths programmes, goody bags as well as seeing their escape room come to life. A runner-up will receive £1,000 for their school and goody bags.