Improving Working Memory

The working memory intervention is delivered by teaching assistants (TAs) and will target those who are identified by teachers as performing in the bottom third of the class for numeracy at the end of Key Stage 1. TAs will work with children to teach them memory strategies and the children will use these strategies to improve their working memory skills through adaptive internet games, which they will play during a dedicated time at school and also have access to at home.

Why are we funding it?

Working memory is the ability to remember and manipulate information over short time-frames and longitudinal studies show a correlational relationship between working memory and attainment in maths, particularly arithmetic; this relationship holds true even when intelligence is controlled for.

The Working Memory programme developed by the team at Oxford University has been tested in two control group studies, one with hearing children and one with deaf children. These two studies provide promising results with both suggesting that the intervention positively impacts on working memory.

How are we evaluating it?

The working memory programme will be tested against an alternative intervention that combines working memory strategies with mathematical reasoning exercises. This would help to unpick the best use of any additional TA time for children struggling with maths – should the focus be only on improving their working memory using abstract exercises, or instead should the same time be used to provide support on both working memory and maths content?

100 schools will be recruited to the project and these will be randomised to one of three arms – a working memory group; a working memory and mathematical reasoning group; or a ‘business as usual’ control group. The study will look at impacts both on working memory and on numeracy.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in spring 2018.