Overcoming The Challenges of Teaching Maths to Children with SEN

As an ex-headteacher of a large primary school with a high level of special needs, it became apparent that the teaching of mathematics across the school would need to be reformed to reach out to all abilities. Ensuring that strategies were implemented to enable children with SEN to engage with mathematics was crucial and proved an entirely different challenge to those that I had previously faced. I hope that through sharing my experience and research, I can help benefit and inform classroom practice in schools with a similar setting.

Teaching maths to children with SEN tends to concentrate on the teaching of basic skills, which are easy to teach and assess. Despite the common misconception that there is a need for constant repetition and drills in order for children to assimilate and retain information, research tells us that it is the manipulation of maths through problem-solving and play that increases their conceptual understanding and application within the classroom.

Several factors contribute to effective classroom practice and the development of conceptual understanding. Primarily:

  • building on children’s prior experience
  • creating practical opportunities inside the classroom
  • allowing children to investigate and choose best strategy
  • building a collaborative, talk-based learning environment

Using manipulatives, such as blocks, shapes, cubes and counters, is a fun way for all children to experiment with maths, explore concepts and discover mathematical relations. Increasingly, the use of technology is providing children with a variety of manipulatives, for example digital apps and games, which can enable all children to think and reason in a meaningful way.

It is also crucial to make additional resources and support available to children who have difficulty with mathematics, to help consolidate their learning of underlying concepts and skills. A conscious effort needs to be made to allocate more time to mathematics than outlined in the NC. Projects, games and collaborative, talk-based activities both inside and outside of the classroom, will ensure that maths is inclusive, practical and fun and can all help guide children’s learning.

It is through hands on learning and consolidation of conceptual knowledge, that we can make maths accessible to all our children. To find out more please read my full article in SEN Magazine here.