Nuffield Primary Mathematics 1964

Director Geoffrey Matthews

From 1964, the Nuffield Mathematics project devised a contemporary approach to mathematics for children aged 5–13. The course built on children’s own experience and encouraged them to think for themselves. The emphasis was on how children learn rather than what to teach, and on understanding not rote learning. Hence the title of one of the introductory guides: ‘I do and I understand’.

Nuffield Primary Mathematics


The resources consisted of teachers’ guides covering ‘Computation and structure’, ‘Shape and space’, and ‘Graphs leading to algebra’, guides to specific topics such as ‘Probability and statistics’ and ‘Environmental geometry’, and ‘Check-up guides’ (prepared by the Institut des Sciences de l’Education in Geneva) which gave guidance to teachers on how to find out whether a child had grasped a particular concept.

There was a book for parents written by W H Cockroft to explain the progressive approach and the aspects of modern maths.

In addition there were three handbooks to help in the training teachers in countries other than the UK, prepared in conjunction with the Centre for Educational Development Overseas.

The project produced no textbooks or publications for pupils. When the course was completely revised over ten years later, the new course Nuffield Maths 5-11 did produce pupil texts.


The resources were used in about half the primary schools in England. Over a million copies of the English version of the first edition guides were sold. The project publications were translated into many languages. The resources were revised in the 1980s as Nuffield Maths 5–11, this time with pupil material.

The teaching approaches were adopted overseas, with a Greek edition of ‘I do and I understand’.

Teacher support and training

The Nuffield Mathematics project built a huge network of enthusiastic teachers with advisers based in maths centres to provide support and training for teachers. This was organised regionally in partnership with local education authorities, and coordinated by a voluntary National Committee which continued working until 2004.