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 KS2 numeracy intervention you need, if any. Many of the same principles also apply to Key Stage 1 too.

Look at the data from class and other maths interventions first

You’ve reviewed the Year 6 tracking data for the first half of term and there’s that growing 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

I’m guessing very few of you will 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, you’ve still got some time before SATs 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.

Read this: How Trent Primary School became Outstanding – and what the Ofsted Inspector did next!

Where to start if you know you need a numeracy intervention?

Firstly you need to know which pupils need the support. Is it just three or four in each year group or are there 15 who are at risk of not making required progress? And what exactly do you want your pupils to gain from an intervention? Is it confidence and reasoning skills or is it a couple of very specific learning gaps that need plugging?

Grab this checklist to audit your own maths interventions at school


Primary School Maths Intervention Checklist

Stop wasting money on interventions that cost a lot but don't deliver the outcomes your pupils need

What budget or resources can you allocate to your numeracy intervention?

Next decide what budget or internal resources you have available. Many schools use their pupil premium budget for interventions as often it is these children who need the help most.

Make sure you download our free Primary School Guide to the Pupil Premium if you’re considering how to make best use of your pupil premium budget – it includes checklists and guidance from a national Pupil Premium Award Winner Lynn Gavin from Pakeman Primary School in London.

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.

Which numeracy intervention is going to work in your primary school?

The next step is to research which primary school intervention programme will support your pupils the best with the set-up you have.

Consider what internal resources you currently have (e.g. TAs, laptops/computers) and how these can help to support any interventions you want to take on.

The easiest way to start your research is the internet but for advice you know you can trust, talk to other teachers and schools that you know, especially locally such as through your cluster group or local authority email roundup (if there still is one).

For an even better and more accurate understanding of what an intervention will be like and whether it will work in your school with your pupils, nothing beats talking to teachers at live local events such as TeachMeets, education company ‘speed-dates’ and primary school maths intervention showcase events like the ones Third Space runs. The great advantage of such local events is that often schools near you will have pupils with similar issues.

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.

What types of numeracy interventions are out there?

As the need for Maths interventions grows, there has been an increase in the types of intervention that teachers can access. However, despite this proliferation, common themes and misconceptions emerge.

Read this: Does your primary school still believe these 5 myths about KS2 Maths interventions

These are the four most popular interventions mentioned by teachers at our maths showcases.

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.

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. From the feedback we received from teachers, it seems 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.

When you’re looking at impact from your maths intervention, it’s worth considering some of the measures we track in our own evaluation frameworks. Attainment may not be everything!

2. Teaching Assistants (TAs)

Good Teaching Assistants can be extremely valuable in supporting individual pupils or groups of pupils. Many teachers however report back to us that sometimes Teaching Assitant time is not being optimised and that not all TAs have the necessary specialist Maths skills to provide the deep support that is needed for their pupils.

That said, some schools and TAs are extremely creative with how they make best use of their time. One TA we spoke to oversees a group of pupils receiving our 1-to-1 maths tuition while at the same time she’s delivering a small literacy intervention group of her own. This ensures all pupils in the room (up to approximately 15) are getting personalised learning in a limited space of time with just the one TA (and several of our wonderful specialist Maths tutors delivering the 1-to-1 lessons).

3. Teachers plugging gaps

One scenario that seems suprisingly common in primary schools is the teacher who introduces a new concept in the morning, and then recognises that by the afternoon, some of the pupils still haven’t grasped it. This requires the teacher to do additional ‘keep-up’ revision that day for those pupils; inevitably this is to the detriment of the other pupils in the class who are ready to move on, and to any broader curriculum knowledge.

In cases where the class teacher provides ‘in-lesson’ maths intervention support, we recommend that there is some provision, also made for the remaining pupils, whether that’s personalised support from Maths specialists or TA supervised activities that build towards greater depth

4. 1-to-1 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.

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.  whilst class teachers still have control over the individual lessons they complete with their tutor.

This is why teachers and headteachers believe our 1-to-1 online Maths interventions are so effective for primary pupils and give such a clear return on investment for the school.

What next?

With luck this checklist has set you thinking on what the best option for your school might be. If you’re interested in finding out more about our own maths interventions for primary schools, take a look at what the Huffington Post had to say about Third Space Learning, watch our pedagogy expert Candida explain how our teaching and assessment works or just book a demo of our 1-to-1 tuition with one of our extremely friendly schools team.

Sophie Waterman-Smith , Teacher , Third Space Learning

Sophie grew up in Brighton and taught Maths in a secondary school. In between working with our schools, she writes about the teachmeets she attends on our blog.