EEF publishes guidance to help teachers boost primary and secondary school pupils’ maths skills

Teachers are being encouraged to address common maths misconception as part of wider guidance for teaching the subject to 7-14 year-olds published today.

Improving Maths in Key Stages Two and Three, published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF),reviews the best available research to offer schools and teachers practical “do’s and don’ts” of great maths teaching.

One recommendation focuses on how to develop good maths knowledge and highlights some areas that pupils should get to grips with, as well as some common misconceptions that they may pick up. Three examples given in the report are:

  • Pupils should master basic mental arithmetic – addition, subtraction, multiplications and division – and be able to recall their times tables quickly. Those who don’t may well have difficulty with more challenging maths later in school.
  • Pupils sometimes think “multiplication makes bigger, division makes smaller”. This is accurate with numbers greater than 1, but isn’t right when applied to numbers less than 1. So, 5 x 5 =25 but 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.25.
  • Learning how to add fractions together can often cause difficulty. For example, many think the answer to 1/8 + ½ is 2/10. Teachers can help pupils to understand that the right answer is 5/8 using diagrams which help to visualise the different values of fractions. 

Today’s report has recommendations in eight areas, each designed to support primary and secondary schools to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates. The latest data shows that just over half (54%) of pupils who are eligible for free school meals achieved the expected standard in maths by the end of primary school, compared to almost three-quarters (73%) of all other pupils. 

The seven other recommendations for good maths teaching for seven – 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 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 of children’s maths to focus on the maths they find difficult.
  • Give children who are struggling with maths additional support through high-quality one-on-one or small-group interventions.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

Getting to grips with basic maths is not just crucial for academic success and future job prospects. The skills we learnt at school help us with everyday life too. Yet a disadvantaged pupil is still much more likely to leave education without them.

Teachers are inundated with information about different programmes and training courses to help boost the maths skills of their pupils. There are thousands of studies too, most of which are presented in academic papers and journals. It can be difficult to know where to start.

The practical and evidence-based steps in our latest Guidance Report are based on the best research available. They’re designed to help schools navigate the wealth of information out there and give all their pupils – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds - the skills they need to succeed.

Notes to editors:

1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £92million to test the impact of 152 projects reaching over 9,900 schools, nurseries and colleges across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.

2. The full report will be available here, from 0001 on Friday.

3. This guidance report draws on the best available evidence regarding the teaching of maths at Key Stages 2 and 3. The primary source of evidence for the recommendations is an evidence review conducted by Prof. Jeremy Hodgen, Dr Colin Foster, and Dr Rachel Marks. The guidance report was created over three stages, in consultation with teachers.

i. Scoping. The process began with a consultation with teachers, academics, and other experts. The EEF team selected the area of interest (mathematics at Key Stages 2 and 3), appointed an Advisory Panel and evidence review team, and agreed research questions for the evidence review. The Advisory Panel consisted of both expert teachers and academics.

ii. Evidence review. The evidence review team conducted searches for the best available international evidence. Where possible, the review focused on meta-analyses and systematic reviews.

iii. Writing recommendations. The EEF worked with the support of the Advisory Panel to draft the recommendations. Academic and teaching experts were consulted on drafts of the report.