Teaching Maths to Mixed Classes

Headteacher Emma Cornhill at Fairburn Primary School talks about her school’s experience of using and implementing Numicon and the impact on the school…

I have been head teacher at Fairburn Primary School for 11 years and I love it there. We have 15 members of staff, all part time and only 67 children in our school, a completely different demographic from other schools.

Implementing Numicon

Our Numicon journey started 3 years ago and was sparked by working with a local cluster of schools on a maths project, which introduced us to the idea of a Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach. We had a new curriculum and were looking for a new programme to teach with, which presented difficulties as we only had two classes; Foundation Year 1-2 and Year 3-6s. The advantages of this were that the low number of children meant we did not have to do a huge amount to implement something new and that we could do things very quickly. We don’t have any staff turnover and everyone is experienced, so we also benefited from stability.

We wanted something which could be adapted to our mixed key stage classes but give us control and flexibility to teach. We were recommended Numicon. Initially we were worried about using it because of the concern that there would be lesson plans and we were not sure how to adapt them to mixed key stage classes.

We started off with implementing it in the Foundation Class and after a couple of terms we were using it throughout the school. It’s the best thing we did! We implemented it properly, utilised our staff’s time so that they could be flexible and teach different year groups, then we split the classes into year groups.


In the beginning stages, planning seemed to take forever as we attempted to understand it. We would be glued to the handbooks and keep pausing to re-read whether we’d done the lessons right. There were times we felt overwhelmed and negative about the programme, there was an instance that a member of staff told me they hated Numicon and felt that they were not where they should be in preparation for SATs! But throughout the process we swapped with each other and supported each other and kept going. Now we can see that all those hard times were worth sticking through because the difference in the children’s depth of understanding of maths is amazing and very much improved. Numicon fosters great mathematicians!

Our Year 5s and 6s were reluctant about using manipulatives at first but came to see the value of it. There were some staff who took some time to warm to the programme, but were completely won over when they saw the positive impact it had on children’s learning. One of our teachers, who has been teaching for many years and is excellent at teaching maths, was sceptical about using it but only a few months ago said, “in all the years I’ve taught fractions, I’ve never taught them so well as when I used Numicon. It’s brilliant.”

The Impact

It’s not something you can pick up after 2 weeks, it’s an investment and anything worth doing is worth investing in. We can’t imagine not using Numicon across the school anymore.

Now we’re here and we love Numicon. Maths is everywhere in our school, in our corridor displays, in our classrooms and activities. We do a Maths Day every term and it’s more high profile around the school. The children’s depth of understanding of maths has very much improved. When we first started using Numicon the image of maths was low, there were children who didn’t like it because they felt like they weren’t very good at maths but through this process their confidence and abilities have improved.

All of the children in our school now absolutely love maths. They will tell you they love maths and that they are good at it. The parents are astounded by their child’s mathematical ability. We saw a struggling child explain all of her workings our in a maths SATs test where before that would not have happened at all. We’ve noticed this type of new confidence across the school where children are able to articulate their answers.

“Numicon isn’t a scheme, it’s a mindset.”

We’ve only just become a Numicon Advocate School with our first open morning in July. No one around us is using it, they all see Numicon as something you give to SEND children but this is not the case. Numicon isn’t a scheme, it’s a mindset. You have to customise it to your school and make it your own. With it, our demographic is changing, as increasing numbers of parents feel encouraged to enrol their children tour school. It has had a huge impact that everyone involved is on board and trained in using Numicon. And we love it.”


Find your nearest Numicon Advocate School to attend an open morning, see the lessons in action and chat to head teachers and teachers using the programme.




2 thoughts on “Teaching Maths to Mixed Classes

  1. Greg says:

    A very thorough article and helpful indeed.

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