Reading time: 3 minutes

Not having numeracy skills can have a long lasting and damaging effect on life as an adult. Lack of numeracy can affect behaviour, employment prospects, lifeskills and the overall attitude to the future.

To minimise the risk of this happening after a pupil leaves school, all issues with regards to numeracy must be addressed as early as possible to help a low numeracy child become numerate.

The most important thing a teacher must remember though is that there is no one set solution for every child. Low numeracy is not caused by one issue and there may well be some areas of numeracy the child has no problems with but is finding other areas a real challenge.

Support at a young age

The earlier intervention takes place, the better. Maths lessons whilst at primary school can often spot the initial symptoms of issues and those who are struggling should be given targeted support. It’s also vital that not only children who are struggling from the outset of their schooling are given help, but those who start to fall behind at any point are also given support as soon as possible.

Government guidelines

The government has published guidelines for intervention as part of their National Numeracy Strategy. The intervention is described as 3 ‘Waves’ and is dependent on the ability of the child.

Wave 1: Intervention is good quality classroom teaching and is applicable to all children

Wave 2: Intervention is small group support and is applicable to children falling just below attainment expectations

Wave 3: Intervention is individual or very small group support by a trained teaching assistant or specialist teacher and is applicable to the lowest attaining children

The idea behind the 3 Wave plan is that once children have grasped the basic understanding of using numbers, they will not fall behind again. There is evidence to back this up for the short term but no long term proof of how their ability may change in later school years with a further need for support at some point.

Targeted interventions

The numeracy skills of a pupil can really be improved with targeted intervention. One such support mechanism would be individual tuition. Whether it’s with regards to the subject or not, individual 1:1 attention has positive impact and this will increase if the support comes from specifically trained numeracy support staff.


Strengths and weaknesses can always be identified through well-structured assessment. With regards to numeracy, this would be the concepts; writing of numbers, counting, understanding what tens and hundreds and finding those which are particularly challenging.

Detailed assessments can take time to carry out if the reason is not obvious and isn’t a case of simply presenting the pupil with a written test. It’s vital though to persevere until the centre of the attainment struggles are found and to then put support in place.

Classroom equipment

Teaching aids are always an integral part of any lesson and maths is no exception. Games are a great way to learn numeracy skills as are items which encourage engagement and interest such as cash tills and pop up shops.

There are also huge amounts of online resources including interactive quizzes and computer programmes which can be made to be part of the lesson. Equipment is not the solution though; it’s about their use within the context of excellent teaching .

With one fifth of children leaving primary school without the level of numeracy skill expected, intervention is required as soon as possible to begin the climb to raise attainment levels throughout the following years.

Adults with poor numeracy are twice as likely to be unemployed and two thirds of children in custody have a numeracy level of less than an 11 year old. Maths impacts in so many ways and any intervention to improve lifestyle opportunities should underpin support from the very first day plans are put into place.