Intervening effectively to support children with mathematical difficulties

Thanks to Eleanor Hick, former Primary and Intervention advisor for Lancashire and founder of Inclusive Learning Lancashire for this blog post on effective intervention. Eleanor is also the author of a new intervention resource, On Track Maths.

There has been a great deal of pressure on schools to raise expectations of what children can achieve. So far so good! There have been a number of unintended consequences of the approaches used by successive Governments since the 1990s. One has been the perception that in order to ‘get children to where they should be’ one must teach at that level. This has been damaging to children and teachers alike. The key to effective intervention is the same as effective teaching and learning: to start from an accurate picture of what the child can do and understands independently.

What do researchers tell us about intervening?

Anne Dowker (2004) in What works for Children with Mathematical Difficulties?, talked about the fact that difficulties are highly individual and the need to find out the specific strengths and weaknesses of an individual and to investigate particular misconceptions and incorrect strategies that a child may have. She also expressed the view that where intervention is carefully targeted, most children will not require intense intervention.

What makes for successful intervention?

  • Successful intervention starts with a clear picture or assessment of what the child knows and can do independently.
  • Teachers should have a good knowledge of their children but this can be refined by the use of specific checks or assessments. On Track Maths supports this process in two ways. The ‘Identification of Needs and Assessment of Outcomes grids’ enable teachers to pinpoint the point at which a child reaches the edge of confidence knowledge of a particular topic or aspect of the maths curriculum. The final assessment lessons provided with each set could be used to assess knowledge and understanding prior to teaching.
  • The next step is to start teaching the child from the position of confident knowledge into areas of insecure and new knowledge and skills. Every topic of the maths curriculum eg Number, has a set of lessons for each year group enabling teachers to identify the specific set of lessons that matches the needs of their child/children and to take their learning closer to/ up to age related expectations.
  • Support staff are a very valuable resource but they cannot make a ‘silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. It is essential that teachers ensure that support staff have sufficient time to read and understand On Track Maths and to read and prepare for each lesson they are leading.
  • The On Track Maths Teacher’s Book gives valuable guidance on aspects of learning such as memory, asking questions and vocabulary as well as the effective use of support staff and delivery.

Anne Dowker – What works for children with Mathematical Difficulties? Department of Education and Skills (24 Jun. 2004)

On Track Maths is a new intervention resource written to enable teachers to identify gaps in children’s knowledge and understanding across the new curriculum. Once the gaps have been identified, the resource provides a comprehensive range of lessons and activities that can be used to teach, apply, consolidate and assess the learning – providing a firm foundation for progress.

Find out more and download a free sample.


mathematics, maths

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