Catch Up Numeracy

Catch Up® Numeracy is a one to one intervention for learners who are struggling with numeracy. It consists of two 15-minute sessions per week, delivered by teaching assistants (TAs). The approach is based on research indicating that numeracy is not a single skill, but a composite of several component skills that are relatively discrete. The intervention breaks numeracy down into ten elements, including counting verbally, counting objects, word problems and estimation. Pupils are assessed on each component and instruction is targeted on those areas requiring development.

In this evaluation, the intervention was run for 30 weeks and delivered to Year 2-6 pupils who were struggling with numeracy, as identified by TAs. The Catch Up Numeracy intervention was compared to a ‘business as usual’ control group and a ‘time equivalent’ intervention group, who received the same amount of one to one teaching by TAs, but did not use Catch Up Numeracy. Those TAs delivering Catch Up Numeracy were supplied with detailed session plans and received three half-day training sessions, led by Catch Up and Dr Ann Dowker of the University of Oxford. The project ran from September 2012 to July 2013.

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. Within this trial, one to one support by TAs led to a significant gain in numeracy skills.

  2. Catch Up makes similar significant gains, but there is little evidence that Catch Up Numeracy provided any additional gains in numeracy outcomes over and above those from one to one teaching itself.

  3. Schools can find it challenging to run two 15 minutes sessions per week, due to timetabling and other issues.

  4. Structured interventions, such as Catch Up Numeracy, should be planned into the timetable from the start of the new school year to ensure they are given priority and status.

What is the impact?

The overall effect size of Catch Up Numeracy in comparison to the ‘business as usual’ control group was +0.21, meaning the programme led to a noticeable improvement in numeracy outcomes. This effect size suggests that, on average, pupils receiving the interventions would make approximately three additional months of progress over the course of the year compared to pupils that did not.

However, the ‘time equivalent’ group, who also received two, structured 15 minute one to one support sessions per week from Teaching Assistants, but did not use Catch Up™ Numeracy also showed similar significant gains (+0.27). This suggests the effect is likely to be a result of regular, sustained and structured one to one teaching, rather than an intrinsic benefit of Catch Up Numeracy. The report’s authors suggest further research is required.

The study demonstrates that one to one teaching with TAs is an effective strategy to increase numeracy skills in Year 2-6 pupils. Sub-group analysis did not identify any differential effects for pupil gender or eligibility for free school meals.

The process evaluation indicated that most TAs valued Catch Up Numeracy and believed it had a positive impact on pupils’ confidence, engagement with learning and willingness to attempt numeracy problems. 

Catch Up Numeracy vs. control108+0.21+30.01 to 0.42
Equivalent time one to one support vs. control102+0.27+40.06 to0.49

How secure is the finding?

The evaluation was set up as an effectiveness trial to test the impact of Catch Up Numeracy in comparison to a ‘business as usual’ control group and an ‘equivalent time’ intervention group, with the developer leading the training and overseeing the provision of the intervention. Effectiveness trials aim to test whether an intervention can work at scale, in a large number of schools.

The findings are based on a three-arm randomised controlled trial using an intent to treat analysis (i.e. pupils were compared in the groups to which they were originally randomly assigned). Six pupils from each of 54 primary schools (two with two sites within the same school) were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a control group that received normal teaching, a Catch Up Numeracy intervention group that received the intervention as described above, and an ‘equivalent time’ group that received two 15 minute sessions a week without Catch Up Numeracy, to replicate the one to one nature of the intervention. The primary outcome measure was numeracy ability, as measured by the Basic Number Screening test. Blind marking of test papers was undertaken. There was relatively low drop out, relatively evenly spread across the control and intervention groups.

The main threat to the internal validity of this trial is the possibility that TAs delivering Catch Up Numeracy passed on knowledge of the intervention to those TAs in the ‘time equivalent’ group within the same school – called cross-contamination. There is some evidence that the time equivalent group of TAs had some knowledge of Catch Up Numeracy and amended their approach in light of this knowledge, although it is unclear as to whether this had an impact on the results of the trial. Overall, the evaluators consider that the effect of one-to-one teaching is robust. However, the differences between the time equivalent group and the Catch Up group are harder to identify. The study findings are consistent with the wider evidence base on one to one tuition, and a smaller number of studies evaluating the use of TAs for one to one support.

The process evaluation revealed that there was some variance in the way in which the intervention was delivered, including a failure to deliver two 15-minute sessions each week for the full 30 weeks, as the trial intended. It is suggested successful implementation would benefit from TAs having sufficient time to plan and prepare for the sessions, with time scheduled specifically within the existing timetable.

To view the project's evaluation protocol click here.

How much does it cost?

The cost of the approach is estimated at £130 per pupil. This estimate includes resources (estimated at £2.00 per pupil), direct salary costs of TA (£95 per pupil), initial training (£17.50 per pupil) and on-going monitoring and support (£8.75 per pupil). Estimates are based on a school delivering the intervention to 40 pupils and training two TAs and one teacher as the Catch Up Coordinator who supports the TAs but does not work directly with pupils.