New research centre will transform understanding of children’s mathematics learning

Loughborough University is to receive over £8m funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, to establish a new Centre for Early Mathematics Learning (CEML)

Announced today (Tuesday 30 November), the centre is one of six in the UK to receive support from the ESRC to tackle urgent social and economic issues.

The CEML will transform understanding of children’s mathematics learning during the early years and design effective educational activities to improve skills and knowledge. It will be led by Loughborough’s Camilla Gilmore, a Professor of Mathematical Cognition, in partnership with the Universities of Bristol, Ulster, Edinburgh, Oxford, York, and University College London.

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 £25 billion per year*.

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.

To address these issues the CEML will carry out in-depth research, looking at the ways in which cognitive, emotional, social, and environmental factors influence the development of children’s maths skills. The team will use multiple research approaches to provide, for the first time, a detailed perspective on mathematical learning, and will work alongside teachers and early years practitioners to develop and evaluate resources based on their findings that will have positive impact in education settings.

Speaking about the centre Professor Gilmore said: “It is vital that we take action now to reverse the decline in children’s maths skills, and ensure that all children, regardless of their background, have the knowledge they need to succeed and flourish in society.

“This new Centre will bring together international leaders in this field, who are experts in recruiting diverse participant pools to ensure findings are representative of wider society. Our work will have a real-world impact, advancing our understanding of children’s development and providing much needed support for children, families and educators. We are delighted that the ESRC share in our vision and are funding this important centre.”

Professor Nick Jennings, Loughborough’s Vice Chancellor, added: “This centre will have a global impact on mathematical learning, helping improve life outcomes for countless children. The funding from the ESRC underlines Loughborough’s position as a global leader in this field.”

Loughborough University is already home to the Centre for Mathematical Cognition (CMC), one of the largest groups of mathematics education researchers in the UK. Established following a £6.6m investment by Research England in 2019, the aim of the CMC is to harness insights from basic research to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics.

*This information comes from a report by National Numeracy/KPMG published earlier this year.