Reception ESSENTIALmaths: what it is, the impact so far and a spring term training opportunity

    Published: 08 December 2020

    The first cohort of 137 teachers have just completed their training to be able to successfully use the Reception ESSENTIALmaths learning sequences to support their delivery of the EYFS maths curriculum. The good news is that many of the teachers are already seeing an impact on the children’s mathematical development and understanding.

    So why did the HfL maths team decide to produce a set of learning sequences to support the teaching and learning of maths in Reception? One of the main reasons for this was because lots of schools asked us for support with this, especially schools who were using our planning resources in other areas of the school. The KS1 and KS2 ESSENTIALmaths materials were launched in September 2017 and the Essential Foundations for Counting materials, were launched in autumn term 2018. Materials specifically for Reception were the missing piece to bridge these two resources.


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    Therefore, in summer 2019, Deborah Mulroney and I, with support from Nicola Adams and Kate Kellner-Dilks and guidance from the EYFS team, we set out to write the materials.

    The learning sequences

    We knew from the start that the Reception ESSENTIALmaths learning sequences weren’t going to be a scheme or teaching programme in the familiar sense. The sequences have been written as a spiral curriculum in which learning is built upon, step by step, sequence by sequence, providing a progression in the children’s conceptual development. We did this because we acknowledged that repetition is necessary and rich variation in practice is needed across a ranges of contexts for learning to be secured.

    The steps within the learning sequences are intended to inform the direct teaching and adult roles when responding to the children’s learning but should not be seen as a series of lessons.


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    • The mathematical focus is identified at the top of each step.
    • Guidance is given for mathematical modelling.
    • Examples of highly effective language are provided.
    • Further ideas are given to support greater exploration of the taught concepts across the environment.
    • Mathematical modelling is used throughout and reliable manipulatives and models are deliberately repeated in order to become familiar and reinforce the conceptual understanding of the children.

    This will develop firm foundations for children to move on to maths learning in Year 1.

    Alignment to the EYFS outcomes

    Whilst writing Reception ESSENTIALmaths, we were very conscious of the proposed changes to the EYFS outcomes that were being developed. We knew that the Early Learning Goals would be changing and therefore we have ensured that the materials we have created are fit for purpose for both the current ELGs and the goals that will become statutory from September 2021.

    The consultation about the proposed changes took place during the year we developed and piloted the materials. When the Government’s consultation response to the Early Years and Foundation stage reforms was published in July 2020, we were pleased to read that the focus was on ensuring children have a strong grounding in number and develop a deep understanding of number to 10.

    It goes on to talk about the importance of having frequent and varied opportunities to build and apply their understanding and the need for a secure base of knowledge and vocabulary from which the children’s maths learning can be built upon. Even though there isn’t going to be a specific Early Learning Goal for shape, space and measure, spatial reasoning skills need to continue to be taught and developed.

    It also mentions the importance of children having positive attitudes towards maths. These are all characteristics that are central to the Reception ESSENTIALmaths materials.

    Working with EYFS settings

    The initial learning sequences were shared with a number of schools that agreed to pilot the materials. Their feedback was very important so we could ensure that the materials worked within a variety of different settings, all of whom had varied pedagogical approaches to delivering the maths curriculum. We are very grateful to those schools.

    The plan was to launch Reception ESSENTIALmaths in the summer term of 2020 with face to face training to support practitioners’ understanding of the resources. We made the decision to only release the materials with training for a number of reasons:

    • From our experience of launching the KS1 and KS2 ESSENTIALmaths materials, we know there is a bigger impact on teachers’ understanding and delivery of the resources, and therefore a bigger impact of pupil’s maths learning, when training has been undertaken.
    • We wanted to provide quality professional development for Reception teachers to raise the quality of practitioners’ knowledge of maths, of children’s maths development and of effective mathematical pedagogy. This is in line with the recommendations from the EEF guidance report on Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage One that was released in January 2020.

    A new opportunity – the online learning platform

    However, with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, our launch plans for Reception ESSENTIALmaths had to change. We were still determined to launch the materials with training but the training was going to have to take a different form to what both we as trainers, and our practitioners, were used to.

    We still wanted the opportunity to ensure that our practitioners felt secure with the resources and were confident with using them to support the delivery of their maths curriculum. We also wanted to develop their maths subject knowledge and understanding of children’s mathematical development and finally we wanted to help identify ways in which maths learning can be delivered, rehearsed and assessed effectively across provision. We soon realised that trying to do this was going to take time and we would need a variety of ways of sharing information and interacting with our practitioners. That’s why we decided that using an online learning platform was the way forward – a first for Herts for Learning.

    It was agreed that the training would consist of a number of elements that were structured around five live webinars that would take place from the start of September to mid November 2020.

    The learning platform would provide a space for the delegates to access the training delivered by myself and Deborah Mulroney from the HfL maths team and Caroline Luck and Andrew Boyes from the HfL Early Years team. Delegates would also be able to communicate with each other through forums. After each live webinar, another section of the learning platform would open and delegates would get access to additional resources – videos, documents etc. and interactive elements such as quizzes, surveys and forums.


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    Having surveyed our delegates at the start of the training, we knew that learning platforms weren’t new to over 40% them and feedback from the end of training shows that over 70% found the platform either easy or very easy to use.

    Due to the fact we could include a variety of additional training materials in addition to the information and training we delivered in the live webinars, we feel that this training has enabled us to deliver a much more substantial professional development package than we would have been able to do on a one day face to face training course. It enables us to space the training out over time so delegates could go back to their children and colleagues to try out or share ideas and knowledge which Guskey (2000) argues is essential for the implementation of new ideas. This is not possible during a day’s face to face training,

    Impact so far…

    The main aim of the training package was to ensure that our delegates felt confident in using the Reception ESSENTIALmaths materials to help implement their maths curriculum. So far, 63 of our practitioners have completed the evaluation of the training and 75% feel confident or very confident at using the Reception ESSENTIALmaths materials to support their planning. Many practitioners have commented on the fact their planning is now better sequenced with the steps helping them to recognise the small but essential progressions in the learning.

    “It has helped to highlight the importance of covering learning in a particular order and how this continues to support the children's learning and development of maths. It provides clear sequence to follow providing the best opportunities for the children learning.” Nichola Harmer, Cowley Hill Primary School

    Another aspect they commented on was that the resources illustrate the need for continued maths rehearsal, application and the deepening of skills across provision which needs to be accompanied with quality talk and questioning from adults to develop reasoning.

    “I love the different ideas that can be used to enhance the continuous provision and the different steps make it clear to all staff how children develop maths skills.” Helen Ingram, Parklea Primary School


    Milk crates and drainpipe experiment


    “We stack our crates and tyres in 3s at tidy up time. Children are able to subitise or count to check how many crates there are. In this picture the children identified that they needed the tower 'really high' so needed more than 3.  Some were able to know there were 4 and others needed to count.” Juliet Scourfield, Maple Cross Primary, provided this example where subitising is being rehearsed outside on one of the learning platform’s forums.

    Importantly, 75% are seeing a positive impact of using the resources on the children’s outcomes and attitudes towards mathematics. Within the training, we encouraged the practitioners to spend time on the early sequences - subitising and counting - as from our experience and from the pilot schools, we know that the securing of these concepts early on will have a big impact as the children’s learning builds. Many of our delegates were already seeing the payoff for spending more time on these foundational skills.

    “There is a better understanding of subitising / number recognition, due to consolidating skills before moving on too quickly.” Karen Rodford, Flamsted Village School

    Greater engagement in maths learning was also identified by a number of teachers, especially children choosing to engage in mathematical activities in child initiated learning.

    “Lots more chat about maths, lots of engagement in resources that were previously not as appealing to children, lots more excitement in general about maths and maths activities (from both staff and children).” Julia Monk, High Winch CE Primary School

    Another aspect that the practitioners felt the Reception ESSETNIAL maths resources had had an impact on was the children’s reasoning and mathematical talk.

    “Improved language and reasoning, children are very enthusiastic, there is more maths evident through children's CIL observations.” Rebecca Edwards, Watford Field Infants
    “The children are thinking harder and have improved their vocabulary and reasoning skills.” Joanna Allen, All Saints CE (VA) Primary School Datchworth

    Developing subject knowledge

    Over 80% of the delegates feel that the training has had an impact or high impact on their subject knowledge with over 90% stating that the training has had a high impact or impact on their understanding of why key concepts, such as subitising and counting, are so important.

    Additional pre-recorded videos were made to support developing teachers’ subject knowledge and nearly 70% of the delegates found these very useful. Over 80% felt that the training had had a high impact or impact on their maths pedagogy with the same number feeling that they how have a clearer understanding of the progression in their maths curriculum and just under 80% feeling it has had a positive impact on making maths more central within their wider provision.


    Child with large dice



    Overall, we feel that the launch of the Reception ESSENTIALmaths resources and the affiliated online training using the learning platform has been a success. That isn’t to say there hasn’t been some bumps in the road. It has taken a huge amount of time, sweat and the occasional tear - with fabulous support from Ian Usher and Jen Davies in the HfL learning innovation team - to set up, populate and manage the learning platform. We also know that the time the delegates have needed to fully access and digest the materials available to them has not always been given to them. We also know that many of the practitioners have recognised the richness of the professional development available to them and have given up their own time to access the materials. To them, I would like to say a huge thank you on behalf of your colleagues and the children you have a massive impact upon.

    However, from the feedback we have received, practitioners feel that their maths curriculum is well supported by the Reception ESSENTIALmaths resources and training and there is a positive outcome of the children’s enjoyment, curiosity and development of mathematical learning. With the learning platform being open to practitioners until the end of the spring term, they will be able to continue to have access to all the materials, have conversations through the messaging and forums with their colleagues and us as trainers. I hope their confidence in the resource will continue to grow and the children will continue to flourish as maths learners.

    Spring term 2021 opportunity – planning materials and CPD package

    We are repeating the whole process again starting at the beginning of the Spring term. You can book onto the training now View Details | Herts for Learning CPD Online 

    Once you are booked on, you will receive a link to be able to download all the Reception ESSENTIALmaths learning sequences. The Learning platform will open on Monday 11th January 2021 with the first live webinar on at 1.30pm on Wednesday 13th January. Don’t worry if you can’t make the live webinar as it is recorded and available on the learning platform. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me


    Department for Education (July 2020) Early Years Foundation Stage Reforms

    Government consultation response Early years foundation stage reforms - GOV.UK (

    EEF (24th Jan 2020) Improving mathematics in the early years and key stage 1 – guidance report Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 | Education Endowment Foundation | EEF

    Guskey, T. R. (2000) Evaluating professional development. Corwin Press

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