EEF evaluation finds Maths Champions programme boosts young children’s maths development by three months

Today, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a new report that 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.

The 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, aimed to find out if the programme which focused on professional development for staff could improve young children’s (three – four-year-olds) maths skills.

The evaluation used a randomised controlled trial (RCT) design as a fair test to explore the effectiveness of the programme by comparing outcomes from nurseries which implemented the programme with outcomes from nurseries in a control group.

The evaluators found that children who took part in the Maths Champions programme made, on average, three months’ additional progress in both maths and language development compared to a similar group of children who didn’t take part in the programme. These findings have a high degree of security, meaning we can be confident in the results.

Further analysis included in the report also suggests that the programme 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 month’s additional progress in maths. However, this finding should be interpreted with caution as fewer children were included in this analysis.

The one-year programme, developed and delivered by NDNA, supports early years providers to improve their maths provision by nominating a senior member of existing staff as a “Maths Champion” to undertake training and support colleagues to develop their maths teaching practice. A “Deputy Maths Champion” is also selected to assist with this work.

The training provided covers areas such as early years maths theory, how to support fellow members of staff, and auditing current practice. It also offers support with developing a maths action plan and tracking children’s progress.

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

The proven impact of Maths Champions is an indicator of the sizeable gains that can be made – at low cost – by supporting early years staff through high quality professional development.

Over 1,300 children from 134 early years settings (both Private, Voluntary and Independent and school-based nursery settings) took part in this trial, which ran from September 2021 to July 2022. Children’s development was measured using the Assessment Profile on Entry for Children and Toddlers (ASPECTS) maths score.

The publication of this report comes as the EEF expands its work to support early years educators and remedy the lack of evidence-based interventions available to the sector. Earlier this year, the EEF Early Years Toolkit and Evidence Store were launched to provide insights and exemplification from the research base. Further information around how to support young children’s mathematical development is soon to be added to the Evidence Store, in a brand-new category focussing on early numeracy.

The EEF is also currently supporting the Department for Education’s Stronger Practice Hubs as Evidence Partner.

The EEF has also published evaluation reports from another project today:

  • SMART spaces: A programme that utilises spaced learning to support GCSE pupils’ revision.

Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said: 

“The early years of a child’s life determines so much about their future.

“And yet, there’s a distinct lack of evidence-based options available to early years settings looking to maximise the impact of their practice, and boost progress for the children in their care.

“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.”

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said:

“We are delighted by the outcomes of this evaluation of our Maths Champions programme. Research shows that children’s mathematical learning in early years makes a difference to the whole of their lives.

“The findings that this programme leads to three month’s additional progress for children in less than a year, is a significant impact for a child aged three or four.

“Ensuring confidence with maths early on can make a significant difference, especially for disadvantaged children’s lives. The evaluation shows some evidence of an even greater impact for those children, helping to close the attainment gap.

“Maths Champions has been shown to be a low-cost but highly effective way of giving children professional, targeted support. This supports early years practitioners to give children the play-based experiences they need across a range of mathematical concepts.

“The message is very clear: give children the support they need as early as possible to give them the best possible start in life.”

Dr Lyn Robinson-Smith, Assistant Professor at York Trials Unit, University of York and Principal Investigator of the Maths Champions evaluation 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”.

Caroline Fairhurst, Senior Statistician at York Trials Unit, University of York and co-Investigator and co-author of the report 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 Carole Torgerson, Department of Education at the University of York (co-author of the report and lead on the process evaluation) 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.”

Gemma Smith, Nursery Teacher at Thornton Primary School, said:

“This programme has been easy to follow. It has improved staff confidence with maths and has had a positive effect on children. It has made us all step back and look at where we were with maths and make some positive changes to our daily routines and classroom practice.”