‘ONE’ program that provides early years numeracy skills for children to be trialled in 150 schools

New research by psychologists at the University of Sheffield highlights the crucial role executive functions play in early maths.

Pre-school learning
  • The Orchestrating Numeracy and the Executive programme (The ONE) is to be trailed in 150 schools and educational settings to support early years numeracy and executive function skills
  • The ONE programme aims to integrate early numeracy and executive function skills through fun classroom activities
  • Results from a recent study found that the programme created better educational progress for children who took part, and that the benefits were even greater for those children experiencing economic disadvantage
  • The new programme trial, delivered by researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Oxford, is co-funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Department for Education’s Stronger Practice Hubs

A programme integrating early numeracy and executive functions found evidence of more progress for children who took part than children who did not. A large follow up evaluation will now test this integrative programme at scale. 

The ‘Orchestrating Numeracy and the Executive’ (The ONE) programme, delivered by the University of Sheffield in partnership with the University of Oxford, trains early years practitioners to support early numeracy and executive functions together in early years educational settings, by embedding executive function challenges into maths learning through fun activities in classrooms.

Providing all young children with a strong numeracy foundation is crucial to their later educational attainment, but also career prospects and choices. However, early years educators report being less confident in how to support young children’s early numeracy than other aspects of early development, and the interplay of numeracy and executive functions has not yet been fully harnessed in early years education settings. 

The ONE was recently evaluated in a study assessing its feasibility and acceptability, supported by the Nuffield Foundation. Results from that study suggest that children who took part in the programme made more progress in numeracy skills and some executive function skills than children who did not take part in the programme.

The study findings also indicate that progress was larger for children experiencing economic disadvantage, that practitioners found that the activities worked well for the children, and that they were able to deliver the expected number of activities each week.

Dr Emma Blakey, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, said: “Our recent studies have highlighted the crucial role executive functions play in early maths. This programme has brought together a team of international academics and early years practitioners to develop a programme of activities that are not only fun for children, but follow a sound evidence base in supporting core cognitive skills and early numeracy. We are excited to roll this out on a larger scale and hope the programme will support early learning, particularly for the most disadvantaged children.”

A new larger scale project, delivering and evaluating The ONE in 150 settings, has just been co-funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Department for Education’s Stronger Practice Hubs, together with other early years programmes, as a major part of the increased focus on support for the early years sector. All the newly funded projects will be independently evaluated, representing a significant contribution to the early years evidence base.      

This trial will be the first large-scale evaluation of the ONE programme. The programme will be delivered by researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Sheffield. The lead investigators are Gaia Scerif (University of Oxford), Emma Blakey (University of Sheffield) and Victoria Simms (Ulster University). At Oxford, the team is made up of Rosie O'Connor and Caroline Korell. At Sheffield, the team is made up of Toni Loveridge and Carmel Brough. The independent evaluation will be conducted by RAND Europe.  

Professor Gaia Scerif, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology, said: “This new project is exciting because it builds on evidence and theory, but crucially stems from collaborating with early years educators. In particular, we aim to give children experiencing economic disadvantage more evidence-based opportunities to develop their early numeracy skills.” 

Professor Victoria Simms, from Ulster University, commented: “Our research team are passionate about developing and evaluating evidence-based interventions, in collaboration with early years educators, that aim to improve children’s outcomes. We are excited to begin this large-scale trial addressing the needs of early educators and supporting their personal development, which in turn should increase children’s numeracy skills. We look forward to working with many settings and understanding what works for early numeracy learning!”

Interested schools and settings can go to the project website to find out more, contact the team for more information by writing to them (at theone@psy.ox.ac.uk), or express their interest in taking part here.

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