Maths programme boosts low achievers’ skills
(7 April 2011)
A scheme to improve maths among primary school children is effective but expensive, according to researchers.
An evaluation of Every Child Counts (ECC) for the Department of Education, conducted by researchers from the universities of Durham, Birmingham and York, equated the improvement to seven additional weeks' progress in numeracy skills for each child.
Although ECC was considered to be well-designed and received strong support from participating schools who emphasised the wider benefits of the programme, many will be deterred from continuing because of the cost.
The programme, which aims to raise the numeracy levels of the lowest achieving pupils to national curriculum standard, costs about £1350 per child to deliver. However, it only succeeded in raising about 9 per cent of the children to their expected level, and this equates to a cost of about £15,000 for each child to reach their target level.
Dr Andy Wiggins, Associate Director of Research and Evaluation, CEM Centre, Durham University, one of the lead researchers, said: "Whilst we were impressed with the implementation of Every Child Counts in schools and the quality of the training and support to teachers, there are questions about its suitability in its current form to provide a universal solution and to meet the needs of the 30,000 Year 2 children who are under-performing in maths.
"We need to develop and evaluate other interventions to see how we can help schools and policy makers address the mathematical needs of disadvantaged and under-achieving children."
Every Child Counts (through the Numbers Count intervention) provides intensive support to the bottom 5 per cent of six and seven year olds. Children are taught on a one-to-one basis by a specialist teacher for half-an-hour a day over the course of a term. The programme is currently provided to over 20,000 children across 1,700 schools.
The research team, led by Andy Wiggins, Durham University; Carole Torgerson, University of Birmingham, and David Torgerson, University of York, looked at the results of two randomised trials and secondary data analyses to assess the effectiveness of the scheme. The team also conducted an economic evaluation of the programme and evaluated its implementation in schools.
A randomised controlled trial involving 409 children in 44 schools across England assessed the effect of receiving Numbers Count (ECC) by comparing those who received the programme, with those waiting to receive it. The research found the improvement to be about the same, irrespective of age, gender, eligibility for free school meals, or prior attainment.
A second trial involving 129 children in 15 schools assessed the effectiveness of delivering the programme in groups of two rather than one-to-one. This was found to be as effective, but significantly cheaper.
The National Pupil Database was used to assess the medium term (2 years) effect of the programme. However, no significant improvement overall on the Key Stage 1 results was found.
Professor Carole Torgerson added: "We conducted a rigorous evaluation of Numbers Count to give a robust assessment of the effect it has on children. Our trial showed that the programme made a moderate improvement in children's numeracy. However, this improvement needs to be assessed in the context of the programme's cost, which was high, and the fact that we don't know if the effect is maintained beyond a single term."