How do you meet the needs of all pupils in maths including those with gaps in learning or SEND?

    Published: 20 April 2021

    You may be forgiven for having missed the release of “Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools”. This guidance report was released by the Education Endowment Foundation just at the point at which a global pandemic was hitting the UK. However, there is no better time than now to consider its key messages and how to effectively implement them in your school. 

    That is because what is good teaching for pupils with SEND is good teaching for all

    Our strongest pedagogy matters most for pupils whose learning is most vulnerable and there are likely to be many more children with gaps in learning. So actually by honing our teaching skills to best support our pupils with SEND, we can also build secure learning for others.


    Book cover


    Many of the messages in the EEF document resonated and it made us think about distilling what we have learnt about supporting pupils with gaps in their learning (including some pupils with SEND) to make progress in their mathematics.  Put simply, there is a need for teachers to:

    • know the child – their strengths and their learning needs
    • know the maths – the progression in mathematics learning and key likely misconceptions
    • find out the child’s maths – their secure strategies, areas of strength and also their gaps
    • plan to build on success – using knowledge of the child and their maths to plan successful learning

    Of course this is very simplistic – but this became the basis for developing our digital training, “Supporting maths learning for pupils who have SEND – 2021 - 2022”, whose structure is shown below. It was in structuring this training that we acknowledged a few key stumbling blocks that teachers often experience.


    Graphic with text


    The first of these is being able to find the right starting point to build successful learning from.  There are a number of reasons that this can be tricky and not least because the best starting point may be difficult to expose or much further back in the learning journey than first thought. 

    Pupils can be over-supported through learning and this can make it tricky to identify what is independently secure. I certainly know that when I was working in Year 6, I knew much less about how learning built and could be successfully taught in Early Years and KS1, although now I realise how crucial these foundations are.  

    It is for this reason that we developed mathematical tracking booklets to accompany the training.  These aim to show how secure mathematical learning builds and support teachers to consider the choices that can be made so that pupils can make progress from their particular starting points.  In the video below, which is adapted from the training, you can see some of the features of the tracking booklets and how these can support teachers to know the learning journey well and how to enable success for their pupils.

    As you can see from the video, finding the right starting point is key and then planning will be required to develop successful learning.  We know that quality teaching within the classroom is the aspect that will have the most impact on pupil progress and so once that starting point is established, it’s key to return to what effective teaching looks like and this links strongly to the EEF guidance and is exemplified in much greater detail within the training.

    However, even with high quality teaching in the classroom, some pupils will need further intervention. This intervention may need to be separate from the whole class maths lesson where gaps in foundational learning have been identified, impacting on the child successfully progressing in their learning with understanding. From our knowledge and research, we know that it is gaps in understanding of number and place value that have the biggest impact on all other areas of mathematics.

    However, we also know that out of class interventions can be a drain on resources (both human and financial), detrimental to pupils’ attitudes about themselves as maths learners and even when success is seen within the out of class intervention, many pupils don’t transfer the learning back into the classroom. So are they worth it?


    Front cover


    A further EEF guidance report – Improving mathematics in Key stage two and three – that was first published in November 2017, includes a chapter about structured interventions.

    The summary of chapter 7 states:

    • selection should be guided by pupil assessment
    • interventions should start early, be evidence-based and be carefully planned
    • interventions should include explicit and systematic instruction
    • even the best designed intervention will not work if implementation is poor
    • support pupils to understand how interventions are connected to whole-class instruction
    • interventions should motivate pupils – not bore them or cause them to be anxious
    • if interventions cause pupils to miss activities they enjoy, or content they need to learn, teachers should ask if the interventions are really necessary
    • avoid ‘intervention fatigue’
    • interventions do not always need to be time-consuming or intensive to be effective

    In response to this, we created a Mathematics intervention tool, using a place value diagnostic assessment that includes detailed teacher guidance, and accompanying digital CPD, Mathematics intervention using a place value diagnostic assessment and teaching programme resource. The training includes five sessions:


    Graphic chart with text


    The first session looks carefully at the recommendations from the EEF Guidance listed above. In this short video, which is snipped from the first training session, the potential focuses for interventions are identified and shown to be a bit like a tree.

    Secure foundational understanding: number sense, language and reasoning & problem solving are the focus of the intervention programme we have created.

    As it says in the EEF recommendations, pupil assessment should aid selection, so to begin with, pupils are assessed diagnostically. This diagram provides information about the questions: the year group expectations that the content for the questions is taken from and the areas of understanding covered.  It also identifies, importantly, that the assessment is suitable for pupils of all ages and, in our experience, fundamental gaps which are limiting progress in mathematics are often much further back than initially thought.


    Ocatagon table with text


    This assessment is different to others because throughout the assessment, you need to have regular dialogue with the child to expose their thinking.  It will be these conversations that will provide you with an in depth assessment of the child’s understanding.  You will truly be getting to know the child and their maths.

    This video shows a question from the assessment and explains how this can be shared with a child and what you might glean from the child’s responses.

    From completing the diagnostic assessment and analysing the results and the observations and conversations you have with the child, a short, focused intervention is then carefully planned.

    To avoid the child missing other areas of the curriculum or getting ‘intervention fatigue’, it is suggested that the intervention is run over five to six weeks with the child having a 1:1 ten minute session twice a week. Approximately 10-12 sessions in total. The purpose of the intervention is to fill the specific identified gap.


    Graphic with text

    We know that another stumbling block to effective intervention can be in the successful implementation.  In order to aid the successful delivery of the intervention and ensure explicit and systematic instruction is provided for the child, a comprehensive set of teaching guidance documents, one for each question in the assessment, are provided. These include detailed plans and accompanying handouts when required.




    This planning guidance is designed to:

    • be practical – includes examples and models of how resources can be used
    • develop good mathematical vocabulary – modelled conversations between the adult and child are on the plans and a large number of speaking frames are provided within the handouts
    • be fun – included are lots of games

    In the final session within the training, another common stumbling block is explored: how to bring intervention learning back into the classroom.  It is through supporting the pupil and the class teacher to understand the connection between intervention and whole-class instruction that links can be made and what has been learnt from the intervention can inform planning and continue to be secured through classroom practice.

    Both of these training opportunities will enable you to better:

    • know the child – their strengths and their learning needs
    • know the maths – the progression in mathematics learning and key likely misconceptions
    • find out the child’s maths – their secure strategies, areas of strength and also their gaps
    • plan to build on success – using knowledge of the child and their maths to plan successful learning

    Whether this is through:

    • identifying and strengthening your understanding of which pedagogies will best enable children not currently working within age related expectations to access and successfully learn, or:
    • to feel more confident at identifying starting points or pinpointing those specific gaps in knowledge to close in a short, focused intervention.

    Further professional development opportunities

    Training details and booking links:

    Mathematics intervention using a place value diagnostic assessment and teaching programme resource

    Supporting maths learning for pupils who have SEND – 2021 - 2022


    Special educational needs in mainstream schools: guidance report (2020) EEF 

    Improving mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3 | Education Endowment Foundation | EEF


    Blog authored by Gill Shearsby-Fox and Siobhan King

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