Tailored numeracy pilot adds up to a better fit

3rd December 2010 at 00:00
A bespoke maths programme has given children in North Lanarkshire a timely boost

Dozens of North Lanarkshire children who were struggling with numbers have made remarkable progress after becoming the first pupils in Scotland to take part in a specially-tailored numeracy programme.

The 54 pupils involved in the Catch Up Numeracy pilot - which involves two one-to-one 15-minute sessions a week - progressed at three-and-a-half times the expected rate.

North Lanarkshire Council now hopes to bring the programme to each of its primary and secondary schools within three years.

Catch Up Numeracy, based on the work of Oxford University psychologist Ann Dowker, is widely used in England and Wales but has now been tailored for the Scottish education system. It focuses on the core components of numeracy, including counting, number comparison, tens and units, ordinal numbers, word problems, estimation, remembered facts and derived facts.

In March, staff at 11 schools - two classroom assistants and a depute head or principal teacher in each case - were trained in Catch Up before taking responsibility for interventions with 66 children.

The average age of pupils at the beginning of the pilot was 8 years 0 months and on average they were seven months behind their expected age for numeracy.

At the end of the trial, 54 pupils were retested; after two-and-a-half months they showed an average increase in their maths age of nearly eight- and-a-half months.

In other words, they progressed at three-and-a-half times the expected rate for children of their age.

"These results are fantastic and we are excited by the gains the children have made," said Vicky Quinn, a quality improvement officer at North Lanarkshire Council. "All the depute heads, principal teachers and classroom assistants involved have commented on the improvements in children's confidence."

Graham Sigley, Catch Up deputy director and a former primary headteacher in Manchester, said the improvements in North Lanarkshire were significantly above the average that has been typical in England.

Liz Denney, depute headteacher at Tannochside Primary in Uddingston, trained with Catch Up and oversaw the work of two classroom assistants with pupils.

Six P4 pupils took part at her school and she was confident that five would make good progress. The average increase in maths age was above that for the North Lanarkshire pilot as a whole, and one child made up 20 months.

She was less confident about one boy who had problems with short-term memory, but his maths age also increased, by seven months.

Mrs Denney found the programme very structured and simple to use. The detailed assessment involved was better than that usually used in Scotland, she said, as it not only established a maths age but pinpointed gaps in learning.

The low running costs also appealed to the school: there was no expensive equipment, and once the trial ended staff could apply their new skills to other children without further training. Tannochside Primary will use Catch Up Numeracy with another 24 children this year, as well as the six involved in the trial.

Meanwhile, Dr Quinn is undertaking training so that she can pass on Catch Up techniques directly to North Lanarkshire staff, rather than relying on specialists from England.

Dr Sigley hopes the programme will take off in other parts of Scotland, although Catch Up, a Norfolk-based charity which also has a literacy programme, makes a point of not promoting its work heavily, preferring schools and local authorities to find out by word of mouth.

The numeracy trial in North Lanarkshire follows on from the authority's Active Literacy programme, which has had a dramatic impact on reading ages.

Tricia Wilson, who led North Lanarkshire's Active Literacy programme since its inception, has died at the age of 58. A full obituary will follow in a later issue.


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