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Early years programme boosts young children's maths skills by three months

Posted on 13 July 2023

Researchers have shown that a maths programme can add three months of additional progress to the learning and skills ability of young children.

Programme can add three months of progress to learning and skills ability

Analysis also suggested that the programme, which focuses on the professional development of early years teaching staff, shows potential in closing the attainment gap between children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. 

Children eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium who received the programme made, on average, up to six months of additional progress in maths.

Mathematical development

Costing just over £7 per child per year, the programme, called Maths Champions, offers inexpensive, evidence-informed support for nurseries looking to boost mathematical development in their early years setting.

The Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) independent evaluation of Maths Champions, delivered by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), and undertaken by a team from the University of York and Durham University, provides more evidence of the benefits on young children’s learning and development of providing structured professional development and support to staff working in early years settings. 

Successful mechanism

Principal Investigator, Dr Lyn Robinson-Smith, from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “This research has shown the Maths Champions programme to be a successful mechanism for improving the quality of early maths practice, and subsequently positively improving all children’s maths and language attainment within the same year. 

“Effective early years education is predictive of children’s later attainment, and therefore it is important that early years interventions are rigorously evaluated.”

Over 1,300 children, aged three and four, from 134 early years settings (both Private, Voluntary and Independent and school-based nursery settings) took part in the trial, which ran from October 2021 to June 2022. 

Confidence and engagement

Co-author of the report Professor Carole Torgerson, from the Department of Education at the University of York, said: "Staff in nurseries were extremely positive about all elements of the Maths Champions programme. 

“They highlighted the increased mathematical confidence and engagement in numeracy activities of both children and nursery staff.  We recommend wide implementation of this effective numeracy programme in early years settings."

Children’s development was measured using the Assessment Profile on Entry for Children and Toddlers (ASPECTS) maths score. A smaller EEF-funded trial of this programme, completed in July 2018, found similarly positive results.

Additional progress

Co-applicant of the report Caroline Fairhurst, from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, said: “The results of this large, rigorously designed and conducted randomised controlled trial indicated that children in nurseries allocated to receive the Maths Champions programme made, on average, three months’ additional progress in maths and language (reading and phonological awareness) attainment compared to children in the control nurseries.  

We found that the Maths Champions programme may also be particularly beneficial for children who are eligible for Early Years Pupil Premium, but this result would need to be confirmed in further studies as it was based on a relatively small number of children.”


Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said: “Today’s findings are hugely significant, giving early years educators a much needed, proven, cost-effective programme to consider when looking to make changes to their early numeracy provision.  

“Programmes like Maths Champions have the power to help us leverage this critical period in children’s development, using it to make sure that they build the foundations they need to achieve their potential.” 

The independent evaluation of Maths Champions, published by the Education Endowment Foundation, is available here

Further information:

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust, as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus, with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.  

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About this research

The independent evaluation of Maths Champions, published by the Education Endowment Foundation, is available here. 

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