Primary School Interventions – What Works At Key Stages 1 & 2

Starting up school interventions can seem like a daunting prospect; whether because of the cost to implement, the need to show measurable progress, or simply the time required to implement an intervention programme successfully. 

There is also now a plethora of choice with so many primary school interventions available, and every Facebook group poster recommending something different.

The result tends to be that you get overwhelmed at all the choices available and rather than try something new, stick to whatever it is you’ve done in the past that you know, whether it’s the most appropriate intervention for your school or not.

Why are we talking about this?

We’ve been running school interventions in maths with our one to one tuition programmes for several years now and we’re talking to heads and teachers in schools every day about what’s worked or not worked for them so far.

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We also make sure that every time a new school signs up with us we interrogate them on all the options they considered for their learning interventions they considered before deciding that our primary maths tutors were the right fit for them.

So on the basis of this experience, we’ve put together this article covering the basics of primary school intervention programmes, when to implement them, what to look for, and which are the most effective at KS1 and KS2.

Do you know about the National Tutoring Programme and have you used it?

Third Space Learning was one of the original tuition partners, selected for the quality and consistency of our maths tutors. Find out about the current provision and funding support available for schools from the National Tutoring Programme here.

Hopefully it will help you make an informed and confident decision when it next falls to you to find the school intervention your pupils need.

What are school interventions?

School interventions are highly specific additional activities, usually in maths and English at primary school. School interventions can take many forms, e.g. one to one or small groups but they should focus on the need of one or more children and be a specific fix for that need.

Read more: Primary school tutoring

School interventions are also likely to be quite specific in the length of time they take. ie several weeks or months. The idea is that a child receives the intervention to support them in their area of need and then, assuming the intervention has the desired effect, after a time they are taken off the intervention programme and another child is selected to benefit.

Targeted support when and where required

If we imagine that education is like a Formula 1 race we can say that every child wants to cross that finish line. They don’t have to be the quickest, but it is important that they all reach the end.

The quality of their car is important – that’s your main teaching aim: give them a great car so that they can all get to the end. But some will get there quicker; if they drive a little faster or have had more practice at something.

An intervention is a bit like the pit stop they make to refuel, or get new tyres, or whatever else they need to keep going. You make that stop as quickly as possible and get them back on track with everyone else. And just like some cars, some pupils may need more pit stops than others.

formula one pit stop
A school intervention is a little like a pit stop – an extra boost to help your pupils get across the finish line!

While interventions used to be considered a ‘catch up’ tactic mostly useful in secondary schools, they have become more common in primary schools as more attention is given to filling gaps in pupils’ learning earlier.

Why do primary schools introduce intervention programmes?

Intervention programmes are generally introduced for an individual or a group of children when it becomes evident that they will need more support to catch up to their peers. This could be due to a disability that makes access to the curriculum harder for them.

Or it could simply be that a group of children (or a specific child) is struggling with a certain concept and they need to slow down and spend more time on it before they move on. Maybe they missed it or there was a lot of time spent on other areas last year, so they are not fully ready for the curriculum this year.

Statistics is one example of a topic pupils may need to spend extra time on
because it was covered less in previous years.

This means they need some repetition of previous units or some pre-teaching to get ready for the next unit. Some types of interventions are specific to a group characteristic, such as for EAL children. Others are more targeted due to test results showing gaps in learning or a lack of confidence in some areas.

At Third Space Learning, we provide online 1-to-1 maths intervention programmes to over 600 schools across the country. The schools we work with use us for a variety of reasons; those listed above, but also as an impactful use of their Pupil Premium Funding or to support a target cohort in meeting SATs expectations.

When might you use primary school interventions?

Some school interventions may happen during lesson time. You may work with a group yourself or have your teaching assistant work with a group or individual to support them during the task.

You might even incorporate the intervention into your whole class teaching, as what helps one will usually support or consolidate for others too. Other interventions take place outside the classroom but during lesson time – a small group or 1:1 targeted intervention led by a teaching assistant or specialist teacher, for example.

group interventions examples
Small group interventions can occur inside or outside the classroom e.g. in a library.

Interventions can also happen during lunchtime or as an after school or breakfast club. These tend to more general interventions targeting a whole school weakness, and are usually optional. There may also be interventions you purchase for students to complete at home – online platforms for example.

Schools using Third Space Learning choose their target pupils and a day/time each week for their online 1-to-1 maths lessons. Having a regular time slot assigned means these lessons become part of that pupil’s (and their teacher’s) weekly routine, making it more likely they’ll attend and more likely that the intervention will be effective in the long run.

It also means multiple pupils can have a 1-to-1 session at once, something that might not be doable with an in-person intervention e.g. because of a lack of staff or a large cohort requiring interventions.

What sort of primary school intervention programmes are available?

A whole range of physical interventions and resources are available. Some can be purchased and used by your teaching staff, while others involve hiring external consultants and providers. External providers can be costly, but some of these are also available as 1:1 or group tuition online and these are generally cheaper than having a tutor come into school.

The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) has a useful list of many of the most common intervention strategies sorted by price, impact and strength of evidence justifying them.

Maths Interventions

Maths is a very big subject when you consider its many strands, and the concepts within these strands. Some children will fly along no problem with pure numeracy work but get utterly stuck on telling the time or measurement.

Other children will have a real practical understanding of money but struggle with concepts of shape and space. Maths interventions to cover all of these issues and more are widely available, but it is crucial that you find one relevant to the needs of your class.

Do they need more physical resources to help them get a more concrete understanding of concepts? Or do they need more practice of number work to embed the basics? 1:1 tuition is a very powerful medium for learning maths as the tutor can spend time a class teacher may not have in unpicking misconceptions and getting to exactly what each child needs to do to improve.

One-to-one tuition such as Third Space Learning’s online interventions, can be
invaluable in helping pupils catch up in maths.

Every pupil comes with different experiences in maths, so it is important to work on just the areas they need and not assume that a gap in one area translates to a universal maths delay.

Read more: So You Think You Need A Maths Intervention?

English Interventions

Phonics and decoding is one of the key foundations for reading. Handwriting is a key foundation for writing (if you want to be able to read it and mark it at least!) Therefore it is not a surprise to find that these are the most commonly sought-after interventions in English.

There are many programmes designed specifically to be led by a teacher or teaching assistant, whereas others are designed to be used by a pupil on their own. There are even some that are a blend of the two, so ensure you do your research and find the package that matches how you want the intervention to be used in school.

Online packages for use at home can be invaluable in phonics, but with handwriting it is generally best not to use technology to deliver a standalone programme – it will invariably not know whether a child is using the right finger or pen grip.

child practicing handwriting
Writing is one place where one-to-one interventions are undoubtedly better.

For example some handwriting apps track the completion of a letter; but a child might do one half of the letter with one hand the other hand with the other hand which does not help them to learn letter formation correctly.

Writing and reading interventions with a broader focus are also available, though these are not used as often.

Pupil Premium Interventions

Pupil Premium funding is a great way to purchase interventions and resources you cannot afford from the main budget. Many of these are available, such as physical resources (e.g. numicon) to use in maths, which would be useful for both Pupil Premium children and their classmates.

It is important, however, to back this up with some targeted teaching – in a group or individually – which supports the Pupil Premium pupils specifically. It’s also worth remembering that  many physical resources need practice to ensure pupils understand how, and crucially when, to use them.

It may also be tempting to get a Pupil Premium intervention funded – an extra TA or specialist teacher to take small groups during lessons, for example – and then put all Pupil Premium children in that group to show the impact for them.

However, not every child who receives Pupil Premium funding will need the same intervention, so it’s worth using regular formative assessmentsuch as a maths diagnostic test to ensure the intervention is having an impact for everyone.

Monitoring the impact of Pupil Premium interventions has become all the more important since Ofsted began giving Pupil Premium spending closer scrutiny in 2019. As well as the headteacher, both the leadership team as a whole and the school’s governing body are required to be aware of how Pupil Premium funding is being spent, and whether it’s having a measurable, positive impact on those pupils in receipt of it.

At Third Space, the majority of schools we work with choose pupils eligible for Pupil Premium funding, as they’re able to use our detailed pupil and cohort progress reports to demonstrate impact.

An example report from Third Space’s intervention programmes, showing how clearly data is presented.

Schools using our interventions also get full access to all the resources in the Third Space Maths Hub, including all premium resources. This means they’re able to target their spending on the pupils who need it most, whilst still helping to transform maths attainment for every child in their school.

Third Space Learning resources

Read more: 10 Low-Cost Pupil Premium Intervention Ideas Every Primary School Can Use To Close The Attainment Gap

Year 5 and 6 SATs Interventions

Year 5 and 6 SATs interventions are usually specifically aimed at filling gaps in knowledge which may have widened the learning gap for pupils. This can make Years 5 and 6 quite intervention-heavy, so ensure that quality beats quantity in your school!

For example, 1:1 tuition can be vital to get some children in a position to access the SATs at all. Whole class teaching resources may also be useful in the upper Key Stage 2 phase; often if there was a gap in a previous teacher’s knowledge or teaching this becomes very evident by Year 5.

You may then need to take the whole class back to basics – on some specific strand of maths or reading, for example.

Our KS2 SATs Intervention Programme follow a structured, three-phase approach to ensure long-term impact. During the autumn term, the programme focuses on strengthening KS2 foundations and plugging gaps early on in Year 6.

Our SATs interventions start by helping pupils plug gaps in knowledge,
then applying this new knowledge in a SATs-style context.

Then, in the spring term, lessons focus on revision and ensuring pupils can confidently apply what they know to SATs-style questions.

After SATs, schools identify their target Year 5 pupils to ensure they are prepared for the transition to Year 6, beginning the ‘gap-filling’ process early to help pupils make as much progress as possible before SATs.

Year 5 and 6 are also ideal year groups to target for optional extras such as free breakfast clubs and after school clubs with booster sessions. Getting every child in school and ready to learn with maths games may be well worth the cost of some toast and cereal!

pupil premium breakfast club
In Year 6, interventions that raise attendance such as breakfast clubs can be just as effective as in-class interventions.

Read more: Why Your SATs Interventions Shouldn’t Start In Year 6 and KS2 tutoring

Special Educational Needs Interventions

SEND is usually much harder to target economically with interventions as the needs can differ greatly. Tempting as a general SEND intervention may be, it is unlikely to target every need in one go. But there are a wealth of resources which can help in the classroom as part of whole class teaching (where SEND pupils may have need of extra or different resources) or to use in small groups.

You may also find that for some pupils it is more important to look at aspects outside of their academic needs to help them access the classroom. Focus on what might help them to cope in situations of sensory overload for example, or acquiring special chairs which will make them more physically comfortable and ready to learn. Some interventions may also be aimed at behaviour or attitudes to learning, which could involve concepts like Growth Mindset sessions for the whole class or school.

There is no one-size-fits-all available with SEND, but there are also plenty of options and resources for you to use. The hardest part will be researching to find which will suit your pupils best.

Key Stage 1 Interventions

With Key Stage 1 interventions it is important to look at the functionality and practicality of the resource. Some physical resources just aren’t suitable for small and still developing hands, especially in areas such as handwriting. Hypermobility or similar physical needs (which will need specialised support as they grow) are an excellent example of one such situation.

With interventions in maths, particularly, have a look at the amount of reading involved to access even apps and games. If pupils need to read instructions but struggle with reading this can stop them from getting proper access to the actual maths that you want them to.

At KS1 children also often lack the independence to concentrate on working alone or on a different task to peers, so tuition is usually the only option. As mentioned earlier however, an online option may save money if you just don’t have the staff available for 1:1 work.

Key Stage 2 Interventions

At KS2 students are usually more able to work independently, so you may wish to purchase something which can be completed independently if you do not have a wealth of Teaching Assistants.

You may also choose to make a cross curricular after-school or lunchtime club for students to join as a more relaxed learning environment. If they struggle with a certain subject such as maths or English, a subtle approach such as a coding club  – which includes lots of maths but also has a focus on getting spellings right to make the coding work – can gain the interest of those who would not volunteer for “Spelling Club” or “Maths Club”.

school coding club
Science and technology clubs are a great indirect way to get pupils learning maths.

Although you will be expected to show you are closing the gap for these children, Ofsted have a renewed focus on the whole (broad and balanced) curriculum, so anything which embeds maths and English into other areas of the curriculum is also worth considering.

If they were to do a Deep Dive into your history curriculum, for example, and found evidence of your Roman numerals work going above and beyond to support pupils with maths then this would no doubt be impressive!

Read more: What The Best KS2 Maths SATs Interventions Look Like

Other primary school intervention ideas that the EEF has looked at

One intervention which is very low cost with good results is simply feedback. You may be doing this already, but a real focus on giving timely feedback for all pupils based on their class work is vital. Often a focus on marking books takes over, and for pupils who struggle with reading they may find it hard to take this feedback on board.

Making time to provide feedback during a lesson to students who are struggling – either by grouping them together or taking ten minutes to walk around and live mark with them – can make a big difference and doesn’t use up any precious school funds.

Ensuring that every intervention has good quality feedback included for the teacher, pupil, and parents or other agencies working with a child can also prove invaluable.

What to remember when choosing a primary school intervention

There is no “best choice” when it comes to potential primary school programmes. However as we have mentioned above, there are lots of things to consider when picking the right one. The type of intervention may vary by subject, by lesson, and by child.

One really important factor is flexibility and a constant cycle of evaluation. Once you have chosen an intervention and are implementing it, keep tracking the impact. Every half term have a look back to see what impact is evident when looking at pupil work.

Look not just in books or folders of the work they did in the intervention, but also look at how this is translating into their main class work. If there is no impact, be brave enough to change things completely once you have thought of a new method to try.

What works in the Autumn term may not work in Summer due to the nature of the way children develop over time, so be constantly in touch with what is going on with an intervention, even if it happens out of your classroom. New resources are invented all the time; try to resist the call of the shiny objects, but do look at what is working in other schools and decide if that will apply to your context too.

Primary school interventions are intended to help your pupils make progress – always keep this at the forefront of the decisions you make.

Third Space Learning’s online one-to-one maths interventions have helped pupils make an average of seven months’ progress in 14 weeks, with programmes available for both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, including SATs-specific booster interventions.

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Since 2013 these personalised one to one lessons have helped over 150,000 primary and secondary students become more confident, able mathematicians.


Learn about our experience with schools or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.


The Ultimate Guide to Effective Maths Interventions [FREE]

Find out how to plan, manage, and teach one to one (and small group) maths interventions in primary and secondary schools.

Includes a 20 point checklist of techniques to improve your one to one teaching.

Download free