EEF Blog: Improving mathematics - why starting early is crucial

Today, sees the publication of our latest guidance report, Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1. Here, our chief executive, Prof. Becky Francis, introduces it, highlighting the importance of starting early to make sure that all young people — regardless of background — have access to great mathematics teaching... 

Mathematics plays a key role in a child’s development. 

Very young children are naturally curious, noticing differences in quantity and the shape of objects, and using early mathematical concepts when they play. Mathematical understanding helps children make sense of the world around them, interpret situations, and solve problems in everyday life, whether that’s understanding time, sharing amounts with their peers, or counting in play.

Developing a sound understanding of mathematics when we are young is essential. Children’s early mathematical understanding is consistently associated with their mathematical achievement in primary and secondary school.

Mathematical achievement, in turn, is consistently found to be the strongest predictor of children’s overall school achievement.* It has, therefore, a major impact on young people’s educational progress and life outcomes.

Yet not all children learn the skills they need to succeed. In 2018, just 66% of disadvantaged children achieved at least the expected level of development for number at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage compared to 82% of their peers.

Once children fall behind, it is hard for them to catch up and they are likely to fall further behind throughout school.

It is crucial, then, that we start early and make sure that all young people—regardless of background—have access to great mathematics teaching in the early years and at primary school.

Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1

Five recommendations to support practitioners in developing the maths skills of 3-7 year-olds

Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1

This is why the EEF has produced this guidance report. It offers five practical recommendations to support the learning of children aged 3 to 7 in the early years and Key Stage 1.

To develop these recommendations, we reviewed the best available international research and consulted experts to arrive at key principles for effective practice. These are illustrated with examples and case studies to help practitioners put the evidence to good use.

This is a companion to our other guidance report, Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3, supporting the learning of 7-14 year-olds.

As with all EEF guidance reports, publication is just the start. We will now be working with the early years and primary sector, including through our colleagues in the Research Schools Network, to build on the recommendations with further training and resources.

Our hope is that this guidance will support consistently excellent, evidence-informed early years and primary provision that creates great opportunities for all children, whatever their background.


* Asmussen, K., Law, J., Charlton, J., Acquah, D., Brims, L., Pote, I. and McBride, T. (2018)Key Competencies in Early Cognitive Development: Things, People, Numbers and Words’, London: Early Intervention Foundation.