Rote learning is causing children to fall behind in maths before they even start school, a new report from MPs has said.
In 2014, more than one in four children did not reach the expected level in maths by the time they were 5, according to government statistics.
The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Maths and Numeracy is calling for more focus on helping preschool children to develop their mathematical thinking by incorporating maths into play.
"There remains a concern that there is much emphasis on ‘counting on’ and rote learning, at the expense of developing early number sense and understanding the meaning of numbers," the report says.
Caroline Dinenage, co-chair of the group, said: “Far too many young children in this country struggle with maths and numeracy.
"This leaves them playing a game of catch-up for the rest of their lives; a game most of them end up losing. As this report sets out, we need a greater focus on maths and numeracy in the early years. If we can provide children with a good grounding at a young age then we will set them up to succeed in their later studies and their future careers.”
The maths that under-5s learn has been toughened up in the past two years. Previously children were expected to count up to 10 everyday objects and recognise the numerals 1 to 9 by the age of 5.
But since the early years foundation stage curriculum was revised in 2012, they have been expected to count reliably up to 20; add and subtract two single-digit numbers; and solve doubling, halving and sharing problems.
In 2014, 68 per cent of boys and 77 per cent of girls achieved the expected level in maths at the end of reception year.
But the report stops short of recommending that people working in early years must have a grade C in GCSE maths, saying it is more important that staff have better training in early years maths development.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said: “Early years settings lay the foundations of mathematical knowledge, skill and confidence. It is vital that the foundations are strong. This is why the NAHT has been lobbying for some time for every early years setting to employ at least one person with qualified teacher status.
“If we’re serious about raising attainment for all children, we must start in early years. As the report itself concludes, if children do fall behind, they continue to do so throughout their school career. For this reason the NAHT believes that all children in early years should be entitled to the pupil premium at the same level as the funding for primary-aged children."
Sharp rise in number of five-year-olds developing well at school 16 October 2014
Poor pupils already falling dramatically behind at school by age of five 21 November 2013