Results Of Our Maths Learning In Lockdown Survey: School Closures, Online Learning And Preparing For September

The last few months have been unlike any others and, true to style, the teaching profession have gone above and beyond to support their pupils and staff throughout the lockdown. Here we share the results of our survey with hundreds of schools about their teaching of maths during school closures and their plans for the future.

Many are now looking ahead to September and considering a variety of different strategies to help their pupils recover lost learning and start the new school year in the best way possible.

As part of our own planning for next term we wanted to get a feel from schools for how their preparations are going, what they see the challenges to be, and where they’ll be looking for support.

So we’ve surveyed hundreds of maths leaders, headteachers, other senior leaders and class teachers across England and Wales to get a picture of their experience of lockdown, and the plans they’re putting in place for September to help their pupils catch up in maths. 

It’s worth mentioning that this survey focused specifically on primary maths. We’ve also been gripped to the regular TeacherTapp updates during lockdown. These help to provide a wider overview across all subjects and into secondary too, and we encourage you to read these!

We will be using the results of this survey to inform our own preparations for helping you to close the maths attainment gap in schools over the next academic year with our online 1-to-1 maths intervention maths intervention.

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We hope that you can use these results to reflect on your own successes so far, support your planning for school return (whatever that may look like), and to be reassured that there is no single right answer to how you plan your return. 

This is an unprecedented time and we are all – teachers, heads, SLT, and education providers – adapting and adjusting our methods, schemes and support strategies continuously to ensure we’re providing the best possible support to our pupils. 

Part 1: Teaching during the lockdown

We started by asking teachers about their experiences of teaching during the lockdown; how they delivered lessons, the resources they made use of, and where they turned to most for support during this very trying time.

Very few schools have been providing live online lessons

The reasons for this are plentiful, ranging from access to technology and safeguarding issues to actual pedagogical effectiveness, but from our predominantly state school respondents, only 14% have taken part in live online lessons. That said, 40% have used recorded video lessons, and many mentioned used of Oak National Academy’s recorded video lessons. 

Unsurprisingly the vast majority (90%) of respondents used worksheets and other activities as the primary method of maths learning for pupils during the lockdown period. 

Since lockdown started Third Space Learning has had almost 90,000 downloads of our free home learning packs and maths resources. We have also continued to support subscribers to our online resource library – The Third Space Learning Maths Hub – with additional resources that align to White Rose. We even created a brand new free resource collection designed specifically to provide pupils with opportunities for independent learning and retrieval practice with minimal adult supervision.

The education sector has risen to the challenge 

We asked what the greatest sources of advice, support and resources have been during lockdown.

Unsurprisingly – given what many perceive to be mixed messages and somewhat delayed announcements from the DfE – the department and indeed the teaching unions took 0.5% of the vote altogether. 

External providers on the other hand seem to be the greatest source of support, with 43% of schools selecting them; this is about the same as teachers’ own SLT (22%) or their colleagues (22%) combined. 

We too have been impressed at how many other educational resource providers have really stepped up to the plate providing free resources, activities and advice. From individuals like Gareth Metcalfe to providers like Hamilton Trust, there’s a lot out there from organisations that we at Third Space admire. 

We’re very proud to have played our part in this by providing hundreds of free resources to thousands of teachers and parents, as well as regularly publishing home learning articles to help parents and teachers during this period.

It’s not all been bad: There are several silver linings to the cloud of lockdown

There have been lots of calls for an overhaul of the education system during this period (as if teachers don’t have enough on their plates!) but even without turning the world further upside down, there are plenty of small wins we’ve had the opportunity to experience. 

We asked teachers if there was anything they had adopted during school closures that they would like to continue doing when they return to school. The wide range of answers clearly highlight the positives aspects that have come out of lockdown:

When it comes to maths, is there anything you or your school has adopted during school closures that you would like to continue doing when you turn to school? 

  • Homework set online. Online platforms like Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams etc have all finally got fuller adoption by all staff in schools, and the results are mostly positive. You expect to set more homework like this. 
  • Communication with parents. Some teachers have realised what an untapped resource parents are, and by informing them more on mathematical expectations such as CPA they are able to support their children better at home, which in turn supports what the teacher is doing at school. This quote was particularly striking “The support of the parents in their children’s learning has been unprecedented”. 
  • Using more online learning activities generally. It’s our impression that the teachers who’ve been responsible for setting the work have now had the time to research what’s available and generally been impressed and want to continue using some of these activities.
  • More time spent on maths. Many felt that 1 hour a day isn’t enough to get through the maths curriculum or to embed the key concepts necessary. The additional time children have been able to give to maths during lockdown has benefited some greatly. 
  • Daily arithmetic. This seems to come up in every survey we do! It’s a common theme so if you’re not using our incredibly popular Fluent in Five scheme of 36 weeks of daily arithmetic for Year 1 to Year 6 you’re missing out! 
  • More focus on open ended problems and real life maths investigations. This came up a number of times with a view to motivating the children and helping their critical thinking. If this is something you’re interested in we have a blog post full of these maths investigations which has already received thousands of views during school closures.
  • White Rose. This is still the most common scheme across all schools – again this is always cited in our surveys which is why we create so many White Rose aligned resources every year to support it. 
  • Use of remote tutors. Obviously not all schools had access to this but those who’ve continued their online tutoring with Third Space during the lockdown have seen it as a lifeline for their pupils’ continued maths learning.

“The children are accessing their lessons from home and I feel it brings them a little ‘normal’ in their everyday lives. They have all said they enjoy it! So thanks from Westfield Primary School for carrying on!”

Jennifer Chaudhuri, Maths Leader, Westfield Primary

  • “Activities linked to specific times of the year” This is what our series of topical maths is all about. 
  • “Lots of practical learning opps where children learn by playing games” Here are 25 maths games to get you started! 
  • “Use of video clips to ensure clear instruction for children. This will help with addressing areas of poor teacher subject knowledge and low confidence.” This is common in many schools; the professional development section on the Third Space maths hub includes over 200 videos that provide clear instructions for the teacher or TA on how to teach tricky areas of maths face to face or online.

Part 2: The return to school 

At this point in the summer term every year most SLT and teachers’ minds are turning to planning for September; teachers and classes have been allocated, there’s the usual discussion over whether ‘getting Year 6’ is an accolade or not, and you’re wondering how to stem the inevitable summer slide when the children return. 

This year, like everything else, it’s going to be a bit different. There will inevitably be more gaps to fill; the attainment gap is likely to have widened, and there is widespread discussion about the need or desirability of focusing on core subjects at the expense of a wider curriculum. 

Here’s how our survey respondents are feeling… 

Planning for September has started in most schools 

Most schools (68% of respondents) have started to plan for returning to school, but only 6% have a firm plan in place.

So if you’re still at the early stages of working out how you’re going to support your pupils in maths (let alone ensure adequate social distancing and hand sanitiser) don’t worry, you’re not alone!

A variety of wellbeing activities are being considered across different schools

We asked a fairly general question here: How will you be managing pupil wellbeing and helping pupils to settle back in? 

Here is a representative sample of common responses: 

  • Lots of PSHE, circle time and discussion work. 
  • Recovery curriculum with texts at the centre.
  • Clear routines and timetables
  • Short achievable tasks to encourage a positive attitude and break down barriers to learning 
  • Bespoke to each child dependent on their needs and recent experiences

And here are some other approaches that we thought merited mentioning

  • Increasing the school day by 1 hour every week to make time for English, maths or PSHE
  • Children return to their old teachers for a week at the start of term and complete a whole school project. 
  • Working with parents as well as children to tackle anxiety 

You’ve really missed the children you teach! 

There is no disagreement about what teachers and leaders are most looking forward to about the return to school in September. 

Four words came up time and again :

  • The children 
  • Normality
  • Routines

Quotes like this were common: 

  • “Getting back to some kind of normality with a whole class and face to face teaching.”
  • “Some sort of normality and seeing the children so we can get on with learning.”
  • “Returning to some sense of normality”

Here at Third Space we’ve missed having all the children back in their one to one lessons too. Inevitably with many of the children we teach being in receipt of pupil premium funding, they didn’t have the technology at home to enable them to continue. Thankfully lots did however and it’s been so rewarding to watch their maths continue to progress despite the school closures. 

“The consistency has been brilliant. The parents have adored it. They’ve loved the fact that their child is getting this one on one lesson every week and I mean, they would have loved it to carry on in the holidays!”

Teresa Griffin, Teacher

There is widespread concern about how far pupils will have fallen behind in maths

Just take a look at the range of responses to this question 

How concerned are you about pupils having fallen behind in maths during school closures where 10 is very concerned? 

63% of you gave a 7, 8, 9 or 10 for this answer, and this was consistent across the different roles in a school. 1 in 4 respondents put 9 or 10; that is a very high level of concern indeed. 

We know that all schools will face challenges in school when it comes to catching up in maths. Interestingly this goes beyond pupils having gaps in their learning, although that did come out as one of the most common concerns. 

Several other common themes emerged…

Loss of learning behaviours. This is something that we encounter a lot when children start up on Third Space Learning at the beginning of any term, but it generally doesn’t take long for them to get back up to realise that what’s expected in an online lesson is just the same as in class.

Resilience. We know some children struggle with this and many schools start their autumn term with some growth mindset work to help support the development of this. In fact resilience is something that working one-to-one can really help to develop as tutors encourage children to always have a go. 

“Third Space Learning builds confidence, develops reasoning skills through talk, is a safe environment for children to become confident in making mistakes – leading to increased resilience. The children enjoy working with their tutors focusing on specific skills in a fun and different way.”

Helen Soderstrom, Deputy Headteacher, Mount Nod Primary School, Coventry

Parents not following school methods. While many teachers have valued parents’ input, there is still a fear that support at home won’t have used the same methods as children follow in class, which can just confuse rather than clarify concepts for a child. At Third Space we avoid this by always checking with a school which of the tools and key mathematical approaches they follow before teaching pupils topics like division or long multiplication. 

And then of course there are some practical issues, the greatest of these being:

  1. Getting children into school. Attendance levels vary greatly from school to school but it’s unfortunately unavoidable that a period of legitimate absence from school will have set back many children who struggled with attendance before lockdown. 
  2. Safe usage of manipulatives. With children being encouraged to bring their own tools and not share resources, most schools don’t have enough concrete manipulatives for solo usage. 

The next three questions and answers are included in full as we think it’s important for school leaders to understand the full range of options that schools are looking at.

What approach are you going to take to maths curriculum coverage? 

What approach will your school be taking to maths assessment when you return to school? 

What will you be assessing in maths at the start of the autumn term

There is no one size fits all here. As the additional comments reveal, it’s all about knowing your school, your pupils, your community. 

Our own approach to assessment when pupils start on the Third Space 1-to-1 intervention is to be led by their teacher. First, teachers select broad topics for each pupil based on their individual learning gaps. Then, our short adaptive diagnostic test identified their precise misconceptions. This enables us to select the most appropriate sequence of lessons for each pupil. 

You can find out more about our diagnostic assessment here. 

Part 3: Catching up in maths 

Although you may not like the term ‘catch up’, most schools are expecting to have to provide additional support on top of what they would usually offer to children at the start of a new school year. 

Here we look at some of the options that schools are considering, including their plans for spending the additional £1 billion fund from the government, as and when it trickles down to an individual school level. 

Expect more and longer maths lessons than usual next term

When asked how their school was to fit in additional maths teaching there was a fairly even split between the following, with many schools adopting all approaches:

  • Teaching maths in place of other subjects
  • Making normal maths lessons longer 
  • Replacing assemblies with maths

In addition, some are looking at extending the school day or working on more cross curricular maths links, and many are looking at interventions including ‘one to one tutoring after school’.

A Third Space Learning lesson teaching the value of each digit in numbers up to 10,000,000.
A Third Space Learning lesson teaching the value of each digit in numbers up to 10,000,000.

Additional maths lessons for target pupils is a common approach

While less than half of the respondents expect to be doing additional maths teaching for all pupils, ⅔rds of teachers are expecting to implement it for a group of target pupils. 

Most schools hope to resource these themselves using existing staff, and many also stated that they were looking to use Third Space Learning to provide 1-to-1 maths support for their target pupils. 

Interestingly some of the Headteachers who’ve been enquiring about our interventions recently were initially planning to resource their interventions internally, but with the additional requirements in terms of keeping children socially distanced, they’ve found it unworkable so we are happy to step in to support instead. 

We are lucky to talk to lots of these Heads every week and are usually able to alleviate much of the strain on their own staff by taking a group of target pupils for maths interventions ourselves. The number of target pupils then just depends on a school’s budget and how they best want to deploy their remaining staff. 

Part 4: Spending the additional funding 

No decisions as yet around how to spend it

We’ve written about the National Tutoring Programme and additional funding promised. It seems that the vast majority of you (70%) feel that the total amount of £1 billion should be equally split between English and Maths. 

However an equally large number of you (71%) haven’t yet decided how to spend it. We expect in part this is down to a degree of uncertainty around how the funding will be allocated, when it will be paid out, and what individual schools can expect to receive. 

You’re looking for a proven track record in any external supplier

We asked of course about what aspects of an external provider’s intervention are most important when you’re choosing who to go with. 

Cost isn’t the decisive factor despite what you might think – as most headteachers will tell you, if an intervention works, then the cost is justified. 

The most important thing to you was a proven track record of success in tuition. 44% of respondents cited this. 

We know that tutoring children in maths can’t be taught overnight – after teaching over 60,000 primary school pupils over the last 6 years, we’re still learning, adapting and improving every term. So when you do start looking for an intervention partner, we encourage you to look at their track record. And do make sure you talk to one of our friendly schools team too to see if Third Space is the right intervention for you. 

Maths tuition will be a good use of the funding

Not our words! 89% of you think maths tuition would be a good way to spend the funding in your school.

So we’ll finish with a few of the reasons why:

  • “Maths is vital to being successful in life”
  • “There will be such a variety of gaps in the children that small group or 1:1 work would be best to teach bits that pupils have missed”
  • “It would provide children with time to catch up in addition to covering the current curriculum”
  • “Because with smaller classes and staggered sessions, number of lessons will be reduced and staffing stretched.”
  • “This will work alongside quality-first teaching and allow children to catch up more rapidly.”
  • “It will provide children more enriching learning experiences in order to enable them to catch up”

Read more about catch up funding options.

We’ll carry on listening and learning 

Whatever the new school year looks like – and we must remember that a return of school closures is still a possibility – we know that the teaching profession will rise to the challenge as they always do.  

We hope you’ve found the results of this survey informative and reassuring. We will now be using these results to help inform our own work in August (while you’re hopefully resting up) preparing our online classroom of lessons and ensuring tutors are fully trained for the return in Autumn. 

Judging by the number of calls coming in from headteachers enquiring about our one to one tuition for September and the number of our existing schools adding additional places for next year we expect higher demand than usual for our maths interventions and our school slots will sell out. So if you do want to talk to us about how we can support you, don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

And if not, we hope it’s not too long before you get your long deserved break. 

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Learn how the tutoring benefits those in receipt of pupil premium or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.


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