Each week we talk to hundreds of teachers and school leaders about how to choose and manage the best Maths interventions programmes for the pupils in their primary schools. In this post I draw on these findings and my own experience leading Key Stage 2 Maths interventions to help you decide what sort of intervention you need and how you should best approach it.
What are interventions in education?
Before starting we should clarify what we meant by interventions in education, specifically in this context primary school maths. Broadly, by maths interventions, we mean additional initiatives and support given to pupils in addition to their daily lessons in class. As you’ll see from what follows, maths or numeracy interventions can take many forms at KS2 from expensive large scale programmes you buy in to internally resourced extra booster sessions.
Key principles for KS2 maths interventions
Start with the data from your own internal assessments.
After reviewing the Year 6 tracking data for the first half of term you may experience that familiar feeling of despair at the number of curriculum gaps in Maths that some pupils need to overcome before SATs. Or a meeting with the Maths coordinator, or KS2 phase leader reveals that already lower down the school, a couple of children in Year 4 or Year 5 are persistently not meeting their age related expectations.
So what, if anything can you do about this? Do you need an intensive, high-cost primary numeracy intervention that may or may not make a difference? Or can you just carry on as you are, reassuring yourself that scaled scores can only get easier, and it will probably all come out alright in the end?
A maths intervention doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Very few teachers opt for the ‘do nothing’ option. Children in every age group deserve the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence in Maths to help them progress and if it looks like the current model at your school isn’t working, it might be a good idea to see what needs changing.
But don’t panic, a primary intervention doesn’t need to cost huge amounts of money you don’t have!
Hundreds and probably thousands of schools are in similar situations to you, and there is a broad range of primary school intervention programmes you can look at particularly for Maths; not all of them are high-cost and many of them are proven to really make the difference you need.
Primary School Maths Intervention Checklist
Stop wasting money on interventions that cost a lot but don't deliver the outcomes your pupils need
Can you resource your intervention from existing staff?
The first step for any school looking to implement a maths intervention is to look at your own resources. Increasingly schools are becoming aware that Teaching Assistants are not necessarily the best placed staff members to run the interventions, and even your class teachers may not have the maths expertise required to really develop conceptual understanding in pupils.
However, you may well have HLTAs or maths specialist teaching staff who you can rely on to deliver additional maths support that fulfils different pupils’ needs. Consider whether you can then redeploy your teaching assistants to cover for these expert maths teaching staff?
Are your teaching staff motivated to teach maths interventions or do they need training ? Are they willing to shuffle their timetable to provide the additional support.
Some schools find, with a bit of creative timetabling, and increasing use of catch up, same day interventions they are able to resource the extra support their pupils need internally.
Some schools can only hold maths interventions after school. Other schools use assembly time to run interventions for specific pupils.
But what if you need to look outside your school? What are your options and what should you look for when choosing an external KS2 maths intervention?
7 steps to choosing the best maths intervention that works for your primary school
1. Identify the pupils who need support
Is it just three or four in each year group or are there 15 who are at risk of not making required progress? Do the children have any special educational needs or additional support requirements?
2. Understand your reasons for an intervention
Are pupils not making enough progress or do you need to also support more able pupils in order to stretch and challenge these particular children?
Is it just a short term boost that’s needed for SATs or are you looking for more long-term gains in confidence and attitudes to Maths?
is it a couple of very specific learning gaps that need plugging or is there a general need to develop their reasoning skills?
3. Assess your budget or resources for a numeracy intervention
Many schools use their pupil premium budget for interventions as often it is these children who need the help most. 65% of the 7,000 pupils Third Space is teaching 1-to-1 Maths each week are in receipt of pupil premium to help close their gaps in Maths.
If you are targeting non-pupil premium children, consider how you can fund these pupils’ support or support them without spending money. Is there any unspent budget? Can you do a deal with an intervention provider or join forces with other schools in your cluster or academy trust to improve your purchasing power. Most providers, including Third Space are happy to agree a plan that fits an individual or group of schools budget.
4. Do your research into the maths interventions available and which will work in your school
The next step is to research which primary school intervention programme will support your pupils the best with the set-up you have. If for example an intervention requires laptops or the internet and you know that your wifi connection only works in the morning (!) or in a certain area of the school then factor this in when you’re selecting the intervention. Be prepared to be flexible.
Ask questions in Facebook groups or on Twitter. Do teachers provide good reports or case studies about the impact or effectiveness of the intervention.
Talk to other schools, attend teachmeets, maths showcases such as Third Space run or even education company speed dating sessions. The great advantage of such local events is that often schools near you will have pupils with similar issues.
And don’t forget to refer to the EEF toolkit for an overview of effectiveness of intervention strategies. (1-to-1 tuition for example is deemed to be very effective, but also quite costly, which is why we deliver our 1-to-1 maths online, making it affordable for schools.)
5. Plan up front how you’re going to measure and report on the effectiveness of the intervention
Just as you are held accountable by Ofsted for how you’re spending your pupil premium, or the measures you are putting in place to narrow the attainment gap, so you should challenge any intervention provider to do the same. Do they provide or can you implement a pre-test and post-test on the topics covered or are you evaluating the softer skills of your pupils? Will case studies of individual pupils prove the impact your intervention had on your pupils to your headteacher and governors?
At Third Space, we offer diagnostic tests at the start of every term for pupils both to identify the gaps in Maths that we will be able to plug but also to benchmark for progress.
6. Follow best practice to maximise impact of interventions
Your maths intervention provider should have enough experience of the different ways schools have interacted with their intervention to be able to highlight how to get the most out of it, or indeed what challenges you might face.
Make sure for example that the provider can segue neatly with what pupils are doing in class, and that they can adapt their teaching to match your calculation policy.
Look also at how the intervention impacts on pupils’ attitudes to Maths as thelping to build confidence or developing a pupil’s growth mindset around Maths will have long term benefits for years to come. These pupils have many more years of Maths ahead of them, and so often it’s the emotional barriers that need breaking down even more than the mental ones.
Finally try to ensure also that your intervention will have as wide-reaching an effect as possible e.g. while our 1-to-1 Maths lessons may transform maths attainment for a single cohort of pupils (perhaps 10 to 15 in a class or year group), we also make available for every teacher and every pupil in the school our toolkit of high quality teaching resources, assessment and online CPD through our online maths hub.
It’s important at this point to speak to all the relevant staff members (headteachers, Maths co-ordinators, business managers). For example, although you may want to resource your numeracy interventions internally due to budget restrictions, you will then need to think about how this will affect any other staff or classes and how you will cover or rearrange the timetable.
Once you know your budget you will have a better idea of what’s available to you and what the pros and cons might be.
7. Be aware of the common challenges around maths interventions
Organising and running a maths intervention programme that effectively supports primary pupils who need it isn’t easy. These are some of the most common challenges schools tell us they face:
- Supporting specific groups e.g. SEN and EAL pupils effectively.
- Managing and allocating the the school’s budget, particularly pupil premium funding, to afford interventions.
- A quick, intensive boost for SATs when schools realise in Year 6 that some pupils are going to really struggle and the results will suffer. (Find out what’s special about a maths intervention for KS2 SATs and the 5 key ingredients you’ll need.)
- Finding the time and resources to plan and deliver interventions.
Your school may well face these or other challenges. They’re normal! The important thing is to be aware of the challenges and risks before you commit to your primary school intervention programme. Make sure too you have a plan in place to combat any foreseeable future problems.
So which intervention should you choose?
Aside from using intevention teachers (who can be expensive) or TAs (who may not be best qualified), these are the three most popular types of external maths interventions that schools use.
1. Maths websites and online resources
These websites are easily accessed and are now being used as a standard “go-to” numeracy intervention when teachers want to give their pupils some additional help but don’t have the time to plan structured and individualised interventions.
Pros: The advantage of these is that per pupil they’re usually quite cheap but they don’t necessarily tackle the real root of any Maths misconceptions. Their ‘personalisation’ is often fairly rudimentary and ‘broad brush’. eg a child will be offered harder or easier questions to do but they will not necessarily be based on the child’s gaps.
Cons: Although these websites can be good for a short term “quick win” but in the long term, children can become disengaged and their learning may not be maximised considering the time they have to spend online.
2. 1-to-1 / small group tutors
Many teachers report to us that 1-to-1 specialist maths tutors would be the intervention of their choice if budgets were unlimited. However for most schools, such an intensive personalised numeracy intervention seems out of reach.
Pros: 1-to-1 tuition is probably the most effective way to accelerate progress in maths. A lesson is fully personalised to the needs of the pupil and the pupil is free to ask questions and talk through their understanding at their own pace.
Cons: 1-to-1 tuition can be expensive.
3. Online 1-to-1 maths tuition
At Third Space we recognise that 1-to-1 maths tuition is a great solution for most pupils, but it is often time-consuming and costly; this is why we’ve used technology to take Maths tuition online.
Each of the pupils we work with receives their own personal maths specialist tutor for the term, and undertakes a formative diagnostic assessment at the start to create their own individualised sequence of maths lessons that are then delivered by personal tutors.
Pros: All the benefits of 1-to-1 tuition combined with the diagnostic and machine learning technology we have implemented. This ensures that lessons are pitched at the right level for each child and that tutors know what to say and when to move learning on to the next stage. We put Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone of Proximal Development into practice to achieve rapid progress in a short space of time.
As well as practice on the maths concepts, children are given time and encouragement to explain their answers and justify their reasoning during the lessons, to help them on their journey to mastery.
Because of the range of tutors we have available, all maths specialists, and trained in the primary KS2 curriculum we are able to provide 1-to-1 tuition for up to 15 pupils at one time in a school, minimising disruption and making it easy to set up.
Cons: Online 1-to-1 maths tuition is not suitable for children with some severe special needs or for children below the age of about 6 or 7. They need to be able to sit and communicate for 45 minutes with a tutor.
Armed with your 7-step checklist, and some background on the interventions available, you’re now ready to take giant leaps in improving the maths outcomes for your pupils.
It is of course our belief that Third Space Learning’s maths intervention is the most effective way to accelerate KS2 pupils’ progress in Maths. We are so sure, that we offer a 6 week no quibble money back guarantee to ALL primary schools!
So, book a 5 minute phone call with one of our extremely friendly schools team and you’ll quickly find out if it’s right for your school or not.