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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Independent Evaluation Of The Maths Champions Programme

A research project of the School of Education.


The Maths Champions Programme aims to improve the knowledge, skills and confidence of nursery practitioners in order to improve the quality of maths provision within their setting.

Evidence suggests that early mathematics achievement is correlated with both achievement in mathematics and general educational achievement in later life (e.g. Duncan et al, 2007; Jordan et al, 2009) emphasising the importance of early maths intervention. Attendance at pre-school and quality of pre-school provision have been shown to predict children’s scores on maths and reading assessments at Key Stage 1 (Sylva et al, 2004), maths and science achievement at Key Stage 2 and 3 (Sammons et al, 2011) and quality of GCSE results (Sylva et al, 2014). Sylva et al (2014) also found that quality of pre-school had a stronger influence on the GCSE Maths and English scores of children whose parents had lower qualifications levels indicating that high quality early numeracy education at pre-school can have long lasting effects which may help to narrow the gap in achievement throughout life.

This programme will focus on private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nursery settings where the quality of provision has been found to be lower than that of integrated centres and schools (Mathers & Smees, 2014). Levels of staff qualification are generally lower in PVI settings (Mathers & Smees 2014) with many nursery practitioners not having higher than level 2 qualifications (APPG Maths & Numeracy, 2014). The Maths Champions programme may therefore support and enhance the knowledge of staff in these settings to be able to deliver higher quality numeracy education. 

The Maths Champions programme will work with senior staff in nurseries responsible for the quality of maths provision in their setting and for supporting other staff to deliver this. The programme incorporates some of the recommendations from the Williams (2008) review of Maths Teaching in Early Years settings: supporting staff to audit their current practice to identify areas for improvement, providing resources to incorporate numeracy concepts within play and resources to encourage interaction around maths. This model of cascading support and training should be acceptable to nurseries and should be an affordable model of delivery assuming that those who receive the training are able to transfer this to other staff in the setting.

The current evidence base for this intervention is fairly weak. A two year pilot of the programme funded by DfE indicated that the programme has increased practitioner confidence and skills in delivering numeracy in nurseries (as reported by the developer). We would recommend that the programme is audited in line with current evidence based guidance of teaching early years maths (e.g. Frye et al, 2013; Williams, 2008). Further development of the intervention along with a theory of change model during a development/pilot year (piloting the intervention and trial processes) should allow the programme to be specified more clearly and ready for a robust effectiveness trial. 


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Evaluation Of Maths Champions (£258,273.00 from Education Endowment Foundation)


To investigate the effectiveness of Maths Champions on mathematical development and skills of children aged 3 and 4 years and to also assess the impact of introducing and implementing the intervention on practitioners confidence and practice in PVI nursery settings.


We propose a pragmatic two armed cluster randomised controlled trial, with wait list, and random allocation at the level of the nursery. Considering the current status of development of the intervention we propose a rolling pilot phase including 18 nurseries, with 6 nurseries allocated to the intervention each term over one year. An effectiveness trial could then be conducted if the pilot proves to be feasible. The extent to which the intervention is changed and developed during the pilot phase will determine whether the pilot trial schools could be combined in the main trial analysis or not.

Conducting a pilot phase would serve two purposes: looking at feasibility of intervention delivery and feasibility of the larger trial. It would allow time for the intervention to be further developed and refined with feedback from the first term and during the remainder of the pilot phase and would provide opportunity to discover barriers to implementation success on a larger scale allowing solutions to be found at this early stage. Trial feasibility will also be important to look at particularly in regards to the early years setting. It will be important to explore: nursery recruitment rates; parent consent rates, especially to non-standard testing of young children; possible intra-cluster correlation coefficient and pre and post-test correlation.

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From the School of Education