What is the evidence on helping pupils who struggle with maths?

2 November 2017

Many children struggle with maths, and taking early action can be key to helping to improve their mathematics ability. However, as children’s difficulties with maths vary, it is important to identify their individual difficulties and weaknesses, and target any intervention appropriately. Teaching in the intervention should be explicit and systematic. It is also recommended that interventions include a regular time dedicated to building fluent retrieval of basic arithmetic facts. There is good evidence that interventions should include opportunities for pupils to work with visual representation of mathematical ideas and be taught how to solve word problems.

In this blog post, we look at some interventions which can help struggling pupils.

Individualised targeted interventions

Individualised interventions include Mathematics Recovery, developed in Australia by Bob Wright and his colleagues, and Numbers Count, recently developed in the UK. Both of these interventions are very intensive programmes for children with severe difficulties in mathematics (approximately the lowest-achieving 5%).

Catch Up Numeracy

There are many children who experience less severe – but still significant – difficulties. For them, a less intensive, but still targeted, intervention such as Catch Up Numeracy may be more suited to their needs.

Catch Up Numeracy is a one-to-one maths intervention for pupils struggling with numeracy (with a number/maths age of 6-11). It involves 15-minute sessions twice weekly delivered by teachers, classroom assistants, carers or mentors who have attended training. Each session includes explanation, modelling, activity, discussion, questioning and recording. The programme also includes a bank of assessments which can be used to monitor progress, set targets and identify the needs of individual pupils.

An Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) evaluation of the programme found that children receiving the Catch Up intervention had a noticeable improvement in numeracy outcomes, compared to the children in the control group (effect size = +0.21). This was equivalent to approximately three additional months of progress over the course of the year. However, a ‘time equivalent’ intervention group, who received the same amount of one-to-one teaching, but did not use Catch Up Numeracy, showed similar significant gains (effect size = +0.27). This suggests that the effect is likely to be result of regular, sustained and structured one-to-one teaching, rather than a sole benefit of Catch Up.

There was however some evidence from the evaluation that there may have been sharing of practice between the Catch Up TAs and the matched time TAs who were within the same schools, and the EEF have since conducted a second evaluation. The new evaluation is randomised at the school-level to ensure that the risk of contamination is minimised and the intervention is again being compared to a matched-time control. The report will be published in autumn 2018.


The National College for Teaching and Leadership’s Closing the gap: test and learn programme, trialled seven education interventions simultaneously using large-scale randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

The interventions were selected for their potential to close the achievement gap for pupils with below average literacy and numeracy achievement. After 27 months of delivery, the majority of results were non-significant, with the exception of Numicon which showed a positive effect on maths achievement and progress (particularly for pupils eligible for free school meals).

Numicon is a maths programme for children from Foundation Stage to KS2. Central to the programme are kits containing manipulable resources intended to help children understand mathematical concepts through concrete objects, such as counting pegs, shapes, number cards and spinners. Each kit comes with a teaching guide, and at-home kits providing homework activities can also be purchased. In addition, interactive whiteboard software is available which features a range of images and models for use in whole-class teaching, including number lines, objects for counting and number generators. Numicon is distributed by Oxford University Press, and resource kits (which are sold individually) can be ordered through their website. Training in Numicon comes in the form of either a professional development DVD or workshops which run for whole- or half-days.


Catch Up website: www.catchup.org

Churches R, (2016) Closing the Gap: Test and Learn – Research Report Winter (2016), National College for Teaching & Leadership

Dowker A, (2014) Intervention for children with mathematical difficulties, Better: Evidence-based Education – Mathematics, Volume 6, Issue 1

Education Endowment Foundation, (2016) Catch Up Numeracy

Institute for Effective Education, Catch Up Numeracy, Evidence 4 Impact

Institute for Effective Education, Numicon, Evidence 4 Impact

Institute for Effective Education, (2016) Promising results for Numicon, Best Evidence in Brief

Posted on 2 November 2017
Posted in: Blog

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