The ONE Programme: Latest developments
Latest updates on the ONE programme by Amy Godfrey
the one programme: Latest updates
what is the one programme?
The ONE (Orchestrating Numeracy and the Executive) programme aims to provide children with a firmer grounding in maths during preschool, which we hope will reduce inequalities in attainment at the onset of formal education. We will achieve this goal by combining activities with well selected maths content and embedded executive challenge, which is the increased use of children’s executive functions in day-to-day activities. Executive functions (EFs) are a set of skills that develop during preschool age. These include inhibition, being able to avoid distractions, working memory, the ability to hold and manipulate information in memory over a short period of time, and cognitive flexibility, being able to switch easily between tasks. They are helpful in all aspects of life, but particularly in school settings with regard to goal directed behaviour – where children choose behaviour that helps them achieve their goals, allowing them to be successful in their educational outcomes. Research has also shown links between EFs and maths; pre-schoolers and even older children with better EF skills have better mathematical skills, so incorporating EFs into early maths tasks could prove pivotal in improving a child’s maths ability, whilst also improving EF skills too. This is important because EF and early numeracy are predictors of later educational outcomes and wellbeing.
why are we doing this?
Gaining a strong grounding in early maths is important to later attainment. As researchers, we want to give equal opportunities to all children, and giving them tools to start school with a solid base of mathematical knowledge plays a part in this. As such, we have developed an intervention aimed at helping children develop their maths skills, but also to assist preschool staff by improving their confidence surrounding maths teaching. Many practitioners working in preschool settings don’t feel confident in their own maths ability, and therefore avoid focus on teaching maths at preschool. Others are concerned about the lack of training in teaching preschool level maths. On top of maths, EF is often an unfamiliar concept to preschool teachers. We hope that our intervention will provide practitioners with the skills and knowledge required to teach their children maths in a way that will best prepare them for school, and give them the tools they need to provide appropriately challenging material in the classroom, as well as developing their confidence to continue to deliver maths activities. As EF researchers, we are very interested in the way that maths and EF skills are connected, and this intervention may help us to better understand this relationship.
To develop the intervention, we worked with early maths researchers including Zack Hawes and Rebecca Merkley, to create maths activities, and adapted self-regulation activities from PRSIST – those which help teach children to control their behaviour in line with their goals, with input from Steven Howard, a PRSIST programme developer. This led to a series of 25 maths-based activities that also contained EF challenge. These included adaptations of familiar games such as Hopscotch and Musical Statues as well as specifically designed tasks, each coming under one of three mathematical categories that align with the targets outlined in the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework – counting and number, patterning and order and spatial awareness and shape. They were presented on activity cards, detailing instructions for practitioners on how to deliver the activity. The cards outlined the aspects of maths and EF skills the game was targeting, specific vocabulary to use during the task and extra EF challenge to add once the game had been mastered - this EF challenge being significant in fostering deeper learning.
The activities were not delivered to settings in isolation. We spent four weeks delivering informal training sessions to practitioners exploring key concepts underlying the ONE: EFs, early numeracy skills and how to add executive challenge in the activities. We visited half of the participating settings to deliver this intervention, hand over the activity cards and reflect on practitioners’ feedback on the activities over the first four weeks of professional training. The other half of settings acted as business-as-usual control settings, in which no training or activity cards were provided in the first instance. These settings carried on with their normal scheduled timetables for the duration of intervention. Practitioners were asked to carry out a minimum of 3 activities per week over a 12-week period, including the 4 weeks of practitioner development training, ideally one from each category, reporting on what went well and any difficulties that cropped up.
Data was collected before and after the delivered intervention in all settings, regardless of whether they received the training and activity cards or not, to test the efficacy of the intervention. Children were tested using various measures of early maths ability and early EF skills. In early 2022, we visited 15 preschools to test 193 three- and four-year-old children and managed to revisit 180 of these children again, allowing us to see how their skills developed over a 5-month period.
what have we found?
Our findings so far have been generally very positive. Practitioners viewed the activities as fun and adaptable to each setting’s daily routine, whilst the training was also seen to be beneficial from a confidence and educational perspective.
“It’s been great to have more of a maths focus. The PD helped the practitioners to focus more on the content and aims of the activities that we do.”
"The training was really interesting and eye-opening - I learnt lots of new things and it has made me observe the children in a new light."
"We are thinking more about executive functions. We know that just a few tweaks can make an activity more challenging"
Saying this, practitioners did mention barriers that became apparent during the intervention process. The biggest of these we found to be staffing issues, due to both shortages and illness, which reduced capacity for settings to plan and carry out the activities. We are keen to work together with practitioners to make the intervention as fun and adaptable to their routines as possible.
From children’s data, we found that across a range of maths and EF tasks performance improved across the 12-weeks. For some activities, these improvements were greater for children who had received the intervention. We also found that the intervention may be effective in promoting some early maths and EF skills, particularly for those children from low-income backgrounds.
what's next for the one?
In the upcoming months, we plan to revisit the control group settings to deliver an improved and revised version of the intervention training, as well as providing them with the activity cards to try out with the children, to also give them an opportunity to develop their maths and EF skills. Additionally, we hope to follow up as many of the children into primary school and complete assessments in the summer term of their reception year, gathering extended data on the longer-term efficacy of the intervention.
Starting in the academic year 2023-24, we hope to test the efficacy of the ONE by re-delivering the intervention to a greater number of settings. If you are a preschool manager and are interested in taking part in the next stage of the project, please get in contact with a member of the team. You can contact Gaia at firstname.lastname@example.org, Rosie at email@example.com, Sylvia at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Amy at email@example.com