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Ulster University given £8m to improve maths learning for young children

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Professor Victoria Simms, School of Psychology at Ulster University.

Professor Victoria Simms, School of Psychology at Ulster University.

Developing an understanding of early years maths education will be the focus of a new £8m project at Ulster University

Developing an understanding of early years maths education will be the focus of a new £8m project at Ulster University

Professor Victoria Simms, School of Paychology, Ulster University

Professor Victoria Simms, School of Paychology, Ulster University

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Professor Victoria Simms, School of Psychology at Ulster University.

Ulster University has been awarded over £8m to embark on a new project which will enhance the teaching of maths in early years education.

The University’s School of Psychology will head the five year programme thanks to funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC),

The scheme will see the establishment of a new Centre for Early Mathematics Learning (CEML).

Professor Victoria Simms from the University’s Coleraine campus will form a key part of the research group which is set to lead the way in transforming understanding of children’s mathematics learning during the early years.

The centre will run for five years launching in January 2022 and is a timely boost after the Fair Start report earlier this year looking at educational underachievement in schools targeted early years as a key area for improvement.

Professor Simmons, research director in Psychology, said it’s a wonderful opportunity to improve the quality of early mathematics education.

“Covid-19 has impacted on children’s learning, international research tells us this is particularly true for the subject of mathematics,” she said.

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“The Centre for Early Mathematics Learning provides an exciting and unique opportunity for researchers to work with children, parents, childcare workers and teachers to investigate the development of mathematics knowledge and skills in the early years.

“Our research will help us understand how young children learn really complex ideas and inform us of best practices and resources to support them.”

The centre is one of six in the UK to receive support from the ESRC to tackle urgent social and economic issues, from evolving policing, to social care and intergenerational inequality in a £49m research funding boost for urgent challenges.

“Improving the quality of early mathematics education has been recognised as a priority in the UK and around the world. Research shows that mathematics skills are important both for individual wellbeing and for a successful economy. For individuals, higher levels of maths skills are associated with improved employment prospects, positive health outcomes and a better quality of life. And as a result, it is estimated that the cost to the UK economy of low maths skills is up to £25bn per year,” she added.

“Despite this many children don’t gain the maths skills they need, with one in five leaving primary school without grasping basic mathematical foundations.

“For children from a disadvantaged background the outcomes are even more concerning. They start school with lower levels of numeracy skills than their peers and this gap only widens throughout their primary education.”

The Covid pandemic has only made the problem worse. Early evidence of the impact of school closures indicates that the disadvantage gap in maths skills has widened throughout, that young children have been impacted the most, and maths is the subject most affected.

Ulster University will be joined by Loughborough University, University of Bristol, University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford, University of York and University College London in the project.

The project has been funded by a total of £49m, with Ulster University’s School of Psychology receiving a share of £8.23m.


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