Current Research

We are trialling a “balanced” way of teaching times tables in Year 4 with the Institute for Effective Education and looking for Cheshire schools to be involved. It will involve classes using a different balance of “conceptual” and “procedural” approaches for 15 minutes a day for four days a week in the Summer Term.  The activities for both approaches are mainly games and paired activities.

We will provide: all of the materials, training for all participating teachers and supply cover for their training, all administrative and ethical support. If you would like more information, please contact

Lexia Reading trial

This is a reading intervention for Year 2 pupils who are struggling readers. It is a computerised programme which includes teacher instruction when children are falling behind. This is usually used in school 4 times per week over a couple of terms. 

The EEF is funding a large scale trial of this programme and schools will be expected to make a small £500 contribution to the cost of this programme which currently stands at £2,952. Schools eligible should have approximately 50 pupils per year group or two class entry.

As randomisation in this trial takes place at the pupil level, all schools who sign up for the trial will implement the programme.

Half the pupils identified as struggling readers in Year 2 will be randomly selected to receive the intervention in September 2018. The other half will act as control pupils and continue with usual learning or other interventions. These control pupils will also be able to receive Lexia if the schools wishes it from July 2019, after all year 2 pupils have completed the online reading test. 

The programme includes 30 pupil licences for a period of 2 years. As we only anticipate about 10 pupils receiving the intervention in Year 2, the schools are free to use the remaining licences for the benefit of pupils in other year groups in year one, and in the second year the 30 licences may be used across the school as the school chooses. 

At the bottom of this page you will find:

  • Information about Lexia programme for schools
  • Expression of Interest Form to be completed and returned to

onebillion: app-based maths learning trial

We have some exciting news that we would like to share with you about the onebillion: app-based maths learning trial that is taking place this school year.

  • onebillion are one of the finalist teams competing for the $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE. For more information see: .
  • The trial has become even easier for schools to take part in now! 
  • The Oxford Evaluation Team will administer the maths assessments at the beginning and at the end of the trial, so the TA is no longer required to do this. 
  • Control schools do not need to deliver an intervention to their nominated children. It's now just practice as usual for control schools. 

More information is available on flyer at the bottom of this page.

If you are interested in taking part in this trial or just want to hear more about it please complete the Register Your Interest form (available to download at the bottom of this page) and return it to Maria Neves (onebillion trial Programme Manager) and Mark Avis

Times Tables - Business as usual? by Mark Avis, Director of Maths.

The DfE has recently announced that it will introduce an online, timed times table test for children in Year 4.

I have already seen the inevitable response of some schools to this in the form of desperate letters home stressing that children in Year 3 should be absolutely secure with 3,4 and 8 times tables and must be able to answer questions within five seconds!

A timed test can assess how quickly children can remember the tables facts but not how well they can apply them flexibly, efficiently and appropriately to solve mathematical problems.  There is more to “fluency” with number facts than simply speed.

Indeed, several studies (Beilock, 2011, Boaler, 2015, Henry and Brown, 2008, Ramirez et al, 2013) suggest that timed tests have a negative effect on number fact fluency, even for children who are higher achieving in Maths.

Of course, having a deep understanding of multiplication facts and the ability to use them quickly as part of a strategy to calculate using larger numbers are important aspects of becoming a successful mathematician for children in primary schools and beyond.

If children use their finite working memory to “work out” the facts each time they need to, some research suggests that this will increase the “cognitive load” (Sweller,1988) on children, preventing them from considering effectively other aspects of questions and problems.   Tables facts need to be firmly set in the long term memory.

But some teachers consider that traditional, “speed and memory” approaches only work well for some children.  It appears that quite a lot of children just don’t seem to be able to commit tables to their long term memory.

Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education (2015), suggests that speed and memory activities are not the best way for children to become fluent in their understanding of multiplication facts. She is of the opinion that it is more important to develop “number sense” rather than memory (Boaler, 2015).

She suggests developing a more “conceptual” approach by replacing timed tests with games and activities based around seeing the patterns and connections involved in times tables and developing an understanding of the concepts, such as repeated addition, inverse relationships and commutativity behind them.

With this in mind, last Summer Term, I carried out a study in 28 Year Three classes in the North West of England into the effect of teaching times tables using a more conceptual approach such as a “Snap” type game (where children are asked to link the same number fact e.g. 3 x 8 with the same fact shown in different ways e.g. as an array, a 3 x 8 table, 24 ÷ 3, 24 ÷ 8, 24, 3 jumps of 8 on a number line, 8 jumps of 3 etc), a game based on arrays called “How close to 100” and a dice game called “Pepperoni Pizza” where children are asked to multiply the number of pizzas by the number of pieces of pepperoni on each and to say the tables fact that it represents.

I began by asking schools how they were teaching times tables.  Many were using only frequent testing in the form of timed quizzes, “speedy tables” and website games where children were asked to input the products in a limited time as their way of teaching tables.   Some were using a mixture of frequent testing and “procedural” approaches in which the tables facts were practiced in board and track games.

I gave a “treatment group” (the group following the conceptual approach) and a “control group” (following business as usual) two tests at both the beginning and the end of the term.  One was a simple timed tables test and the other was designed to test children’s ability to make connections between different representations of tables such as arrays.

The treatment group were asked to replace their usual approach with the new one and to use the materials at least three times a week.

Although the children were playing games with the materials, they were not simply asked to “discover” the connections for themselves.  The teachers specifically explained the connections with worked examples.  In the visits that I made to the treatment group schools, it was clear that most teachers were not only making these connections explicit at the beginning of the sessions but showing great practice in stopping the sessions to recap and asking children to explain their reasoning. (Once again, a huge thank you to all of the children and teachers who took part in the study).

The research, funded by North West Maths Hub 2, (the full report can be found at the bottom of this page) found that the treatment group did better on both tests, showing an “effect size” of between three and four months’ improvement over the control group.

The National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) lays out a balanced approach to the teaching of multiplication facts but many, if not most, schools continue to use only “speed and memory” approaches in relation to specifically teaching times tables.

With times tables, modelling and direct explicit instruction does not have to be limited to repetitive procedural activities which aim to get children to memorise the tables.  This may work for some children but “schemas” – internal models of understanding – for other children may be constructed more effectively by modelling the connections and patterns between the elements of the tables facts – repeated addition and arrays of different types alongside more procedural, “practising” activities.

Wherever you stand on this issue, and I suspect that primary schools will be thinking about this a lot in the coming months, there is clearly a strong argument for using a wider range of teaching approaches than frequent timed tests.

I suggest that a better balance of conceptual and procedural approaches, perhaps using both good quality procedural activities, such as games and collaborative activities which allow children to practice tables facts in such a way as is enjoyable, and more conceptual activities, such as the materials used in this study, with less frequent timed testing (perhaps half termly for formative assessment) might shift the focus from testing to teaching and result in greater success for a greater number of pupils.

The debate about times tables continues and will, I’m sure, heat up over the next couple of years.  We are hoping to conduct a wider study, perhaps trialling the effect of an approach which balances these two aspects into a useable classroom product. If you think that you might like to be involved in this, get in touch!

Zippy's friends - an EEF trial

We have the opportunity to be involved in  a large national trial of a intervention for Year 2 to help develop resilience and coping skills for children. Zippy's Friends is used internationally and has considerable research to support it, although is not yet widely used in the UK. If your school would be interested, please let us know by emailing You can find out more about Zippy's Friend and the charity that run it - Partnership for Children here

If you have any questions, ideas, plans, wishes, needs or thoughts about Research and Development in the Aspirer Teaching Alliance, Megan Dixon (Director of Research & Development) would be delighted to hear from you! Please contact Megan on