26 Jun 2018

Improving Maths at Key Stage 2 and 3: Workshop based on the EEF Guidance Report

Improving Maths at Key Stage 2 and 3: Workshop based on the EEF Guidance Report

We were very fortunate to welcome Peter Henderson on Monday to talk about strategies to support teaching maths at KS2 and KS3, adding detail to the information shared in the EEF Guidance Report ‘Improving Mathematics at Key Stage 2 and 3’. Peter is a Programme Manager at the EEF and was one of the main authors of the Guidance Report.

Peter started the presentation explaining the importance of taking an evidence based approach to teaching, providing us as teachers with a tool to make informed approaches and decisions in a system full of advice and suggestions which may or may not be a good use of time in the classroom. Two programmes were highlighted which have undergone trials to look at their effectiveness; ‘Shared Maths’ and ‘Catch up Numeracy’. RCTs involving control groups were used to explore the impact of the interventions. As a group, we voted on which of the programmes we thought would show most progress; the vote was very split as both seemed quite feasible. The result was explained; the ‘Shared Maths’ group made no more progress than the control group whereas the ‘Catch up Numeracy’ showed +3 months progress. This is a clear example of how we could use evidence from such trials could perhaps inform teachers about the choices of intervention. However, this type of result definitely doesn’t offer a ‘sure fire’ solution for our groups in our own contexts.

To write the Maths Guidance Report, the authors carried out a meta-analysis of current studies to look at the evidence associated with improved outcomes at KS2 and KS3 maths. A panel of teachers and academic experts were involved to interpret the review and consider findings related to practice. There are eight ‘best bets’ for effective maths teaching in the report, they can be considered as promising areas to focus on in professional development. It is worth considering what we are spending time on which are not in the findings – are we wasting time on things that are not supported by evidence?

Use assessment to build on pupils’ existing knowledge and understanding
The priority for assessment should be gaining an understanding of what pupils are struggling with so that teaching can be focused on these areas. This is often related to misconceptions and it is important to think these through and plan strategies to address them in planning a scheme of learning. Eg the conception that multiplication makes bigger, division makes smaller is useful applied to positive, whole numbers but becomes a misconception when applied to number of 1 or less in the context of a fraction. Effective feedback is of great importance in helping students to make progress, this relates very closely the report which we have used extensively in our Feedback work this year; ‘A Marked Improvement’ and Peter applied it directly to maths. It emphasises the need to make feedback specific, accurate and clear.

Use manipulatives and representations
The use of manipulatives and representations probably has the strongest evidence base behind it out of any of the findings in the report. Manipulatives can be used to support pupils in structuring their understanding and are found to be very powerful in helping students to visualise and deconstruct a concept.

Teach strategies for solving problems
Problem solving is often misinterpreted. Something written in words is not automatically a problem, neither is applying a procedure or routine task to a new context. It is more about solving a task that hasn’t been seen before. To support this aspect of maths teaching, the integration of problem solving in many lessons, rather than separating it out as a specific task or problem solving lesson is recommended. We should encourage pupils to try out different approaches and then compare and contrast them. Explicit instruction and modelling, including worked examples, will be necessary to support pupils initially. Pupils can focus on the core strategies and see the vital steps involved.

Enable pupils to develop a rich network of mathematical knowledge
This section includes the consideration of the best use of calculators and where they can be best used. It includes not using them to do calculations which pupils should know, or be able to do quickly. However, calcultors are extremely useful and there should be explicit teaching in how to use them most effectively. They should also be used where a new concept, method or problem in being introduced so that pupils can concentrate on the main maths concepts being used, not on the calculations used.

Develop pupils’ independence and motivation
This aspect is very much based on metacognition and the general points from the EEF Metacognition and Self-regulation Guidance Report. It explains how pupils should be explicitly taught how they may think through a particular problem or question and how this can build confidence and motivation. For so many, maths is seen as a negative subject, which ‘they can’t do’, the language and attitude of all teacher and other support staff in a school is critical in inspiring a positive attitude towards the subject.

Use tasks and resources to challenge and support pupils’ mathematics
Tasks and resources are important, but not as important as how they are used for students to really understand the thinking and processes that they use. Teachers and teaching assistants need to really think through a task and its intended outcome, as well as the type of feedback that would be provided after.

Use structured interventions to provide additional support
Interventions can be bought in from companies or organisations, or run by the individual school. All interventions should consider these findings; early intervention, include systematic teaching, make connections between the class teaching and the intervention, consider pupil motivation and look at what the pupil will miss if they are taken out of class. This area links closely to the EEF Guidance report and recommendations ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants’ which has specific strategies enable the best use of support and interventions.

Support pupils to make a successful transition between primary and secondary school
There is very little specific evidence about transition in this area. The recommendations have been formulated from some broader areas of good practice and applied to transition. It is recommended that primary and secondary schools develop a shared understanding of curriculum, teaching and learning and that secondary schools attain a good understanding of pupil’s strengths and weaknesses. Setting and streaming is a hot topic and we are eagerly awaiting the results from an EEF trial about effective use of grouping which is being led by Prof Becky Francis, Director of the UCL-Institute of Education (IOE).

Finally, we discussed the audit tool which runs alongside the Guidance Report, which is recommended as a activity for teachers/schools to undertake to judge where they are at and where efforts should be focussed in looking at individual contexts.


Like all of the Guidance Reports, the Maths KS2 and KS3 report provides a very clear review of the evidence and key tips for teaching to improve outcomes based on the evidence. As a non-maths specialist, I was struck by how simple to and logical the recommendations are, and how they are very much linked to other recommendations in our guidance reports. There seem to be some ‘best bets’ coming out of the evidence base which cut across subjects and key stages. It would seem that these are real areas to focus on as the body of evidence and experience grows.