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Low attainment in mathematics: an investigation of Year 9 students

Researchers: Professor Jeremy Hodgen | Professor Margaret Brown ...

Project overview

Low attainment is acknowledged to be one of the most serious problems in mathematics education. Evidence suggests that in England this problem is getting worse rather than better. However, relatively little recent research has focused on low attainment in secondary mathematics.

This project will develop a new test, targetted at low-attaining secondary students’ knowledge of number, multiplicative reasoning and algebra. It will use quantitative and qualitative methods to address the following questions:

  • What mathematics do low-attaining secondary students understand, and what are their particular strengths and weaknesses in number, multiplicative reasoning and algebra?
  • Can low attainment be characterised simply as cognitive delay? If not, to what extent and in what ways do low-attaining students understand mathematics in qualitatively different ways to high-attaining students?
  • To what extent do low-attaining students’ prior understandings of mathematics, and of particular mathematical topics, help to explain the existence of the attainment gap? What is the relative contribution of these mathematical understandings in comparison to socioeconomic status and other demographic factors?
  • What is currently known about the effectiveness of teaching strategies and approaches that address low attainment in secondary mathematics?
  • To what extent is mathematics currently taught in appropriate ways for low attainers?

The project aims to provide evidence to inform policy and practice directed at narrowing the achievement gap in mathematics, improving the teaching of secondary low attainers, and informing the design of appropriate interventions.

Latest on this project


  • Professor Jeremy Hodgen
    University College London
  • Professor Margaret Brown
    King's College London
  • Professor Robert Coe
    Durham University

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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