Improving Maths in Early Years and Key Stage 1 – EEF recommendations

Maths Hub

Dec 21

Below are five short blogs outlining just some of the ways in which participating in DfE funded Maths Hub workgroups can provide teachers with both time and support to engage with the recommendations of the Early Maths guidance report.



Develop practitioners’ understanding of how children learn mathematics

Every year the Maths Hubs run an Early Years Specialist Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics (EYFS SKTM) work group. This is a great example of teachers being supported to work together on the EEFs first recommendation. The work group involves teachers developing enhanced maths subject knowledge with a particular emphasis on developmental progression in the Early Years to ensure that sequences of learning are cohesive. The EEF evidence in this area focuses on the importance of ‘developing a secure grasp of early mathematical ideas’ and recognises that this takes time and that the cohesion is a fundamental element.

The focus of the EYFS SKTM work group ensures that practitioners will have enhanced knowledge of key mathematical concepts and structures in EYFS mathematics: Cardinality and Counting, Comparison and Composition and will understand the importance of small secure steps/carefully planned progression. This is broken down into how children learn mathematics in smaller steps and equips practitioners through the development of pedagogical content knowledge. This is very different to what we know as ‘subject knowledge’ and we have had a high percentage of experiences practitioners who have developed their pedagogical content knowledge as direct result of attending the work group.

Considering maths in all areas of the learning environments and enhancing ways to strengthen mathematical opportunities is a frequent focus of the work group activity and the impact in the setting and on practitioners who attended the work group showed was demonstrated in their feedback where they commented that there was a better understanding of the teaching and learning of number as well as how maths can be used in other areas of the classroom.

The SKTM work group really provokes thought and a deeper understanding of how children learn mathematics. More consideration is able to be given to developing metacognitive techniques through careful planned questioning as well as being able to provide opportunities to enhance understanding in all areas of provision; thus providing more opportunities for practitioners to be able to model and encourage mathematical explanations with the children.  


Dedicate time for children to learn mathematics and integrate mathematics throughout the day

Maths development in the Early Years is complex and multi layered and mathematical understanding should be explored through age appropriate mathematical activities and challenges. The Maths HUB advocate that teachers and practitioners within the early years should model and encourage thinking through ccommunication using the correct mathematical language, they should show, explain and demonstrate their mathematical thinking whilst exploring mathematical concepts and ideas. An interest in maths should be fostered by a stimulating, purposeful,  mathematically rich environment by encouraging mathematical conversations, using questioning to draw the maths out of situations and providing a narrative for what they are doing. Practitioners play a key role in facilitating exposure to the appropriate progressive steps, encouraging children to recall relevant knowledge and skills and setting relevant challenges that both embed but enrich the children’s mathematical progress. However, none of this can be left up to chance!

Within both of the Early Years work groups that the South Yorkshire Maths Hub offer, practitioners are encouraged to explore maths within a range of contexts such as using books, puzzles, songs, rhymes, puppets, play and games. However, it is the subject knowledge of the progressive steps of development within the NCETM 6 aspects of Early Years Maths that remain centre stage. As a work group, we look at ways to develop practitioner confidence in extending discussions with children around mathematical ideas, enabling children to make connections, reason and adjust their thinking.

It is important that practitioners recognise that maths is not just a carpet session delivered every day or not just incidental if children choose to explore the maths area; but that maths surrounds each and every one of us and mathematical opportunities can be integrated into most learning experiences. In all of the work groups we look at routines and how maths can be embedded into common everyday activities such as registration time, snack time, story time and tidying up time.


Use manipulatives and representations to develop understanding

Manipulatives and representations are crucial for young children to have access to in order to gain a deeper understanding of the mathematical structure of the number system and the concepts. However, the resources and the images shared with children need to be carefully thought about by practitioners or they can themselves lead to misconceptions. In our Building Firm Foundations work group, we work together to carefully consider the resources that we use with children in different situations to ensure that the manipulatives or representations used enhance learning and expose the correct elements of the mathematical concept. It is appropriate for all practitioners to be aware that some resources may actually distract the children from the learning taking place, so choosing the correct resources at the correct time is key.  We also consider the practitioner role in how to use these resources effectively in order to help children understand the link between the manipulatives or representations and the mathematical ideas they represent. All too often, children develop confidence in using a resource but struggle to see the connection to the written numerals or equations.

The Early Years Specialist Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics (EYFS SKTM) spends significant time exploring how children can create representations to explain and develop their mathematical thinking and how practitioners can use this approach to develop a child’s independence in mathematical reasoning.

In both work groups we think about the range of visuals that are offered to children and explore whether limiting the range places a ceiling on learning. We also encourage practitioners to see maths learning as a journey and not view the early years as a phase in isolation. It is important to consider how the children’s learning in the Early Years provides the foundations for the learning in Key Stage 1 and beyond and whether teaching using certain resources or images, will limit the children’s learning later in their journey. In the Building Firm Foundations work group, teachers and practitioners consider how resources will flow into key stage one, in order to ensure the transition and journey is smooth.


Ensure that teaching builds on what children already know

It is absolutely vital that educators understand exactly where their children are on the different mathematical learning trajectories in order to provide the correct next steps and learning opportunities. This is explored in both of our work groups, ensuring that teachers and practitioners have a clear understanding of the steps of progression within the NCETM 6 aspects of early years maths and what each step looks like in practice.

In the Building Firm Foundations work group, we work together unpick children’s counting and cardinality abilities using the NCETM typical progression documents. On face value, counting is often considered the simplest of skills and often at the start of the work group professionals have a very simplistic view of whether children can or can’t count. We therefore explore what depth and breadth of understanding is in this aspect, using research from the counting principles to support. Then we encourage practitioners to observe closely the actions of focus children during counting and cardinality activities and we work together to interpret those observations to identify areas of strength and the next steps for learning. In this activity, practitioners really begin to understand how the small steps build progressively and are able to identify how gaps in children’s knowledge can limit learning further in their mathematical journey.

The Early Years Specialist Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics (EYFS SKTM) spends time exploring how the quality of practitioner questioning can hugely impact the understanding we have of children’s abilities. We explore in depth questioning that digs below the surface to really uncover children’s understanding so that we can understand where to direct our teaching.


Use high quality targeted support to help all children learn mathematics

The key element within this aspect of the EEF research is to ensure that all schools have a workforce that have strong subject knowledge in early mathematics. In early years, all practitioners have interactions with pupils and pupils are reliant upon the practitioner’s ability to support, challenge and embed their thinking within all aspects of the provision. In order to do this well, all adults need to be well trained and be able to respond appropriately. In the Building Firm Foundations work group we focus on building up that subject knowledge across the workforce.  Leaders are encouraged to think about how they can create, embed and sustain strong subject knowledge in all early years practitioners in order to have impact on the children.

The Early Years Specialist Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics (EYFS SKTM) uses their knowledge of the NCETM typical progression charts alongside close observation and assessment to quickly identify children require intervention in order to meet the progression milestones appropriate for their age. The term ‘number novice’ is used within all aspects of our work groups to describe children who may require extra support. We explore ways in which the other aspects of the EFF report can