The Welsh Government’s priority is to raise standards in literacy and numeracy in schools across Wales. In 2012 the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) developed a National Numeracy Programme (NNP) which sets out the actions that Welsh Government and its partners will take to achieve an improvement in numeracy standards across the curriculum over a five-year period. It explains why there is a need for action, the impact on Wales and the challenges Wales needs to address.
The NNP, aimed at 5 to 14-year-olds, proposes action at national, local and school level to help support learners so that they leave school equipped with the numeracy skills they need.
Definition of numeracy
To help distinguish between numeracy and mathematics within the context of the NNP, the Welsh Government defines numeracy in the following way.
Identifying and applying numerical reasoning skills in order to solve a problem, and carrying out the numerical procedures which enable people to work out and show their solutions. (2012, p.2)
The NNP aims to create a system whereby a curriculum can be developed that will be representative of the skills, concepts and principles that are required outside of the classroom and those that are needed in later life, outside of a purely mathematical context.
A ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) on ‘What Works’ for Numeracy Teaching’ for children aged 5 to14 was completed in 2012. Within this report, five overarching themes were identified (Welsh Government Social Research, 2012, pp.3–4).
Theme 1: Teaching practice
Theme 2: Teachers’ professional development
Theme 3: Curriculum factors
Theme 4: Interventions
Theme 5: ICT and use of technology
Within the five themes, the REA identifies ‘a set of key factors’ which seem to lead to effective numeracy practices, i.e.:
- Numeracy is integrated across the whole curriculum and not just in ‘mathematics’ teaching.
- Basic concepts and principles are taught which can be applied in later life outside a purely mathematical context.
- The skills’ need of the country is reflected in the curriculum and the curriculum suits the specific cultural context.
- Alignment between the curriculum and assessment.
- Learners work in mixed ability groups.
- Collaborative teaching practices which include peer learning opportunities.
- Scaffolding teaching practice.
Teachers’ professional development
- Improving levels of subject-specific knowledge.
- Improving levels of pedagogical content knowledge.
- An appropriate system for early identification and intervention for learners who experience difficulties with numeracy/mathematics.
- Well-designed and tailored intervention programmes which meet individual learners’ needs.
- Dedicated mathematics expertise at school or local authority level.
ICT and technology
- ICT and technology could have a part to play in effective numeracy teaching.
(Welsh Government Social Research, 2012, pp.3–4)
- Read sections 6–12 of ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) on ‘What Works’ for Numeracy Teaching’. Now compare this with pages 7–8 and 10–16 of the ‘National Numeracy Programme’. Note similarities and differences between the key themes identified and their associated factors of effective numeracy learning and teaching. You could use a table or Venn diagram format to record your notes.
- Now read the following quotation by Askew et al 2010 cited in ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) on ‘What Works’ for Numeracy Teaching’ (Welsh Government Social Research, 2012, pp.9–10).
There is an underlying assumption to many international comparative studies that the answer to successful mathematics teaching is ‘out there’; that somewhere, someone has an education system that ‘works’. If not in one country, then maybe the answer can be found by looking across several – put together school organisation from one place, with approaches to training teachers from another and pedagogic practices from a third, and a composite solution will emerge. Our review of the research suggests that finding the ‘roots’ of success is an unattainable fantasy . . . There is much we can learn from research into high-attaining countries, but it is indirect. It can help us hold a mirror up to our own practice, to raise questions to reflect back on ourselves.
Using the key themes identified in the NNP (below), reflect upon the impact of the NNP to date on (i) your practice (ii) your learners (iii) your school. Have any key themes emerged which have given you a greater insight into developing effective numeracy practices?
- Enhancing the numeracy curriculum.
- Advancing teaching practice in numeracy.
- Supporting learners quickly and successfully.
- Communicating the power of numeracy.
(Welsh Government, 2012, pp.7–16)
In a YouGov poll (February 2012) commissioned by National Numeracy (external link), respondents were asked a range of questions about their attitude to maths and numeracy with numeracy being defined as ‘being able to use maths confidently in everyday life’. The results of this survey, cited in the NNP, indicated that while four in five adults (80 per cent) would feel embarrassed to tell someone they were bad at reading and writing, less than three in five, or just over a half (56 per cent), would feel the same about telling someone they were bad at maths [See Sections 2.4 and 2.5]. As part of the NNP, the Welsh Government has introduced a behavioural change campaign to try to tackle some of these attitudes and behaviours towards numeracy.
- What reasons do you think lie behind the much greater degree of social acceptability in ‘not being good with numbers’ identified in the NNP (Welsh Government, 2012, p.16)
- Extension – compare the results of the February 2012 YouGov survey (external link) with those of the February 2013 YouGov survey (external link).
Section 2.4 ‘Practitioner beliefs, attitudes and emotions’ and Section 2.5 ‘Learner beliefs, attitudes and emotions’ will help you to explore issues raised in the NNP in more depth.
The National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF)
Based upon the outcomes of the REA (Welsh Government Social Research, 2012), the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) has been developed as part of the NNP’s key theme of ‘Enhancing the numeracy curriculum’ (Welsh Government, 2012, p.10). The LNF contains elements within a numeracy component which replaces the non-statutory skills framework element of ‘number’ (Welsh Assembly Government, 2008, p.22). Annual expected outcomes in numeracy are set out for all learners aged 5 to 14 and provide a continuum of development. These elements will enable local authorities, consortia and the Welsh Government to determine how learners are performing against national standards for numeracy and ensure that learners, parents/carers and teachers are clear as to how learners are progressing and what their next steps are.
The teaching of numeracy is to be considered as a ‘whole-school’ approach and one which is integrated across the whole curriculum. The LNF is designed to support and inform teachers of all subjects about how to apply numeracy across the curriculum to raise levels of attainment and enable schools to identify how best to support and challenge all of their learners.
The National Numeracy Tests
Alongside the LNF, the Welsh Government is developing annual National Numeracy Tests. These bespoke tests are for all learners in Years 2 to 9, and are being developed by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in partnership with Acumina.
The tests are intended to generate summative, highly reliable, comparable data which will enable schools and local authorities to measure learner progress and focus attention on improving performance. They will also include formative elements, generating data from which teachers can gain an accurate picture of where a learner is in terms of their skills and ability.
There are two sections to the numeracy test:
- a procedural section (introduced in May 2013)
- a reasoning section (introduced in May 2014) and will run alongside the procedural section of the test.
The procedural section is designed to test numerical process (i.e. carrying out mathematical procedures properly and presenting their findings). The reasoning section is designed to test the ability to understand what mathematical skills are needed to solve a problem and how to apply them.
Within the LNF there is an additional focus on strengthening numerical reasoning skills and this is directly reflected in the numeracy tests. This represents a major development in numeracy in the curriculum in Wales (Welsh Government, 2012, p.11).
Within Topic 3 ‘Learning and teaching numeracy’, assessment of numeracy will be explored in some detail. At this stage, consider the following two statements from the NNP.
‘There is a need to integrate the teaching of numeracy across the curriculum as a whole, with learners given the opportunity to apply numeracy principles across different subject areas, enabling numeracy to be taught in a way that does not look like mathematics.’ (Welsh Government, 2012, p.7)
‘The formative assessment of learners through the LNF and the summative assessment of the numeracy tests will provide teachers with an indication of learner progress in numeracy.’ (Welsh Government, 2012, p.11)
How might ‘cross-disciplinary’ numeracy be formatively assessed using the LNF?
How might summative assessment (i.e. numeracy test results) be used formatively to support learners’ progress and identification of next steps in learning?
Askew, M., and Brown, M. (2003) How do we Teach Children to be Numerate? A professional user review of UK Research undertaken for the British Education Research Association (online) (Accessed 28 September 2013).
Brown, M., Askew, M., Rhodes, V., Denvir, H., Ranson, E., and William, D,. (2001) Magic Bullets or Chimeras? Searching for Factors Characterising Effective Teachers and Effective Teaching in Numeracy. Research Paper for British Educational Research Association Annual Conference Symposium on Pedagogy and educational policy: modernising teaching or narrowing the agenda? (online) (Accessed 28 Sept 2013).
Kyriacou C. and Goulding M. (2004) A systematic review of the impact of the Daily Mathematics Lesson in enhancing pupil confidence and competence in early mathematics. Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education (online) (Accessed 28 Sept 2013).
Slavin, R E., Lake, C., and Groff, C. (2009). Effective programs in middle and high school mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), pp 839–911. (online) (Accessed 19 August 2013)
National Numeracy (Feb 2012) YouGov poll on attitudes to maths and numeracy. (online) (accessed 19 August 2013).
Welsh Government (2008). Skills framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Cardiff: Welsh Government (online) (accessed 19 August 2013).
Welsh Government (2012). National Numeracy Programme. Cardiff: Welsh Government. (online) (accessed 19 Aug 2013).
YouGov Plc (Feb 2012) YouGov/National Numeracy survey results. (online) (accessed 19 August 2013).