Northern Ireland

Improving mathematical achievement in primary school-aged children

Mathematical achievement is important for children's future educational success
Mathematical achievement is important for children's future educational success

TEACHERS are being invited to access a body of evidence to assist them in helping primary school children with maths.

A new Ulster University report explored different classroom interventions designed to support achievement in mathematics.

Mathematical achievement is important for children's future educational success, employment opportunities and health outcomes.

However, it is recognised that there is substantial underachievement in the subject, with approximately one in five children not reaching the required levels by the end of primary school.

It is central to many Key Stage 3 subjects and confidence in it supports achievement.

Led by UU's Dr Victoria Simms, the research was carried out in partnership with Loughborough University, Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The report analyses the outcomes of classroom-based mathematical interventions.

The review found evidence to suggest that there are effective strategies that teachers can use to help mathematics understanding and fluency with mathematical facts.

It also found that there are lots of different ways that teachers can support children to have a wide bank of strategies to complete mathematical problems and that they know when to best apply them. Technology in the classroom can also be helpful as long as these tools have been developed with a clear understanding of how children learn.

However, it is clear that the evidence base on interventions is weak. Therefore, this study recommended that researchers develop this evidence-base by testing how effective mathematical interventions are. This will help teachers make evidence based decisions to support children’s learning.

Lead researcher, Dr Victoria Simms, Reader in Developmental Psychology and Research Director of the School of Psychology at Ulster University explains:

"We hear a lot about the importance of literacy and the numerous interventions available to teachers to support learning in reading and comprehension," Dr Simms said.

"Maths is just as important for children’s future educational success, but in comparison to reading we simply do not have as much evidence or resources to help children achieve in mathematics.

"This report and web resource, which is free to access, highlights a range of evidence-based classroom interventions teachers can use to support their pupils with maths. We know from lots of research that early success in maths encourages young people to reach their potential across the STEM subjects on offer to them. It’s really important that we support teachers by providing resources and training to help them improve children’s outcomes."

Simon McLean, Vice Principal of Woodlawn PS in Carrickfergus commented said as schools faced an ever increasing range of financial and innovative pressures, the need to stay ‘current’ in the provision of maths and numeracy support became more demanding.

"Educators can often be seduced to take on board the latest shiny programme or app that is a one stop shop to outcome improvement but without a focus on basic mathematical skills, conceptual fluency, and genuine hard graft, children will struggle to access more complex and diverse mathematical concepts," he said.

"I am thankful for research like this that supports and edifies classroom practitioners on the front line who regularly create bespoke resources in their own time to enhance the personal learning journeys of the children in their care. We must continue to ensure that foundational concepts are not missed within valuable teaching time."

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said primary school teachers were inundated with information about different approaches and resources for teaching mathematics.

"But evidence of the impact of these interventions on pupil outcomes is often lacking. We hope this project will give them easily accessible guidance for the most effective practice," he said.

:: All information is summarised on a new, free to access website: