EEF Blog: Making it count

Sir Kevan Collins introduces our latest guidance report, Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3.

Leaving school with a good GCSE in maths is a prerequisite for progressing into quality jobs, apprenticeships, and further education. The skills we learn at school help us with everyday life too. Yet too many of our young people do not make the grade and, as a result, risk social and economic exclusion.

These pupils are disproportionately drawn from disadvantaged homes. Last year, over half of those eligible for free school meals had not achieved the expected level in English and maths by age 16. This is not just a personal tragedy for the individual; it’s a waste of talent on a national scale and a huge barrier to improving social mobility.

To truly break this link between family income and educational attainment, we have to start early and make sure that all young people—regardless of background—have access to great maths teaching in primary and secondary school.

At the Education Endowment Foundation, we believe the best way to do this is through better use of evidence: looking at what has—and has not—worked in the past can put us in a much better place to judge what is likely to work in the future. But it can be difficult to know where to start. There are thousands of studies of maths teaching out there, most of which are presented in academic papers and journals. Teachers are inundated with information about programmes and training courses too, all of which make claims about impact. How can anyone know which findings are the most secure, reliable, and relevant to their school and pupils?

To support good maths teaching in Key Stages 2 and 3, we’ve published Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3 today. The guidance report offers practical, evidence-based recommendations in eight areas —that are relevant to all pupils— but particularly to those struggling with their mathematics. To develop the recommendations, we reviewed the best available international research and consulted experts, teachers, and academics to arrive at key principles for effective teaching.

One recommendation focuses on how to develop good maths knowledge. It highlights some areas that pupils should get to grips with, as well as some common misconceptions that they may pick up.

The seven other recommendations for good maths teaching for 7 – 14 year olds are:

  • Support pupils as they make the transition from primary to secondary school, when attitudes and attainment in the subject tend to dip.
  • Use physical objects and diagrams to help pupils engage with and understand maths concepts.
  • Help pupils become better problem solvers, so that if they don’t know how to work something out they can draw on different strategies to help them make sense of it.
  • Use tasks and resources like digital technology and textbooks to support good maths teaching.
  • Encourage pupils to take responsibility for their own learning by developing their ‘metacognitive’ skills – their ability to plan, monitor and evaluate their thinking and learning.
  • Use assessment and knowledge of common misconceptions to guide planning, intervention and feedback.
  • Give children who are struggling with maths structured intervention support.

I hope the guidance will help to support consistently excellent, evidence-informed maths teaching in England that creates great opportunities for all children, regardless of their family background. It is a starting point for a more evidence-informed approach to teaching maths and the EEF and its partners, particularly our network of Research Schools, will be producing a range of supporting resources, tools, and training to help you implement the recommendations in your classrooms.