A ‘unique and innovative’ project is being launched in the North West which will help children get a solid grasp of maths skills from a young age.

The project, which has been awarded a grant of almost £100,000 by education charity SHINE, is focused on building a solid, early foundation in maths.

Three Saints Academy Trust, based in St Helens, will develop a specialised programme tailored for early years children. It will include a variety of experiences that support children’s mathematical development and prepare them for success in school.

There will be a focus on the key areas of numbers, patterns, and sequencing – the ability to understand and recognise the order or sequence of numbers, shapes, or objects.

Nursery teachers will be upskilled to teach the subject effectively, through training, coaching and mentoring. Meanwhile, parents will be shown how they can help develop their children’s maths skills at home through a series of workshops and resources.

Lisa Bradshaw, Deputy CEO at the trust, says they have “spotted a gap in the market” for a nursery-specific maths programme.

“There is currently no such programme out there that solely targets nursery-aged children,” she said. “And at present, staff in PVIs (Private, Voluntary and Independent settings) tend not to receive subject-specific training.”

All children starting at primary school must complete a reception baseline assessment within the first six weeks. This establishes children’s starting points in language, communication, literacy and mathematics.

Lisa said: “What we’ve noticed for a long time is when the little children start in reception, those coming from school nurseries and those from PVIs have such different baselines – particularly in mathematics.

Lisa says the Trust’s expertise makes them best placed to design a maths programme for early years children. Three Saints leads the North West Learning Partnership and North West Three Maths Hub. The trust also has both an early years director and a maths director.

“We understand what nursery children developmentally should be and can be exposed to,” she says. “We know we can start at a very early stage with our mastery style approach because gaps in maths ability have not started to widen at this point.

“As teachers, we shouldn’t at this point be capping children’s learning in maths. We understand that young children’s brains work very differently, but we shouldn’t enforce what we think children are capable of at that age.

“A key principle is that we don’t cut the learning. Learning is for everybody, regardless of age, stage, background, etc.”

Lisa says it is important that early years children are not simply “fed a watered-down” version of what is taught in reception.

“We feel very passionate about that, and we know we can help by giving practitioners in early years a resource that will help them and their children without watering down what is already there.”

The biggest challenge the project faces is staff availability, Lisa says. Resources in many settings are stretched, so it is difficult for staff to leave to attend training courses. To counter this, Three Saints will provide two on-site training workshops per term, where trainers will model and demonstrate techniques to practitioners.

There will also be sessions for families, again delivered in the settings, where parents and carers will be given expert advice on how best to introduce maths to their young children.

All those practitioners who have agreed to take part in the project are “excited to get started,” Lisa said.

By the end of the project, an “off-the-shelf” guidance tool will have been created that gives any school or nursery “the tools they need” to teach maths well.

“Backing from SHINE – a really credible, established organisation which agrees with us that this issue really matters – means that now, I think, people will start to sit up and take notice of us.

“That’s really exciting, and it gives us a solid grounding in getting this out there.”

Helen Rafferty, Interim CEO at SHINE, said: “The early years are a time of exploration and development for very young children, and we know that what they learn here can set the foundations for their future time in school and beyond.

“We are so pleased to be supporting this work, which brings together the very best in collaboration and practice between committed practitioners across many types of early years settings and gives children the opportunity to develop crucial maths and number skills right from the outset. We are really excited to see the impact.”