Mathematics Support Interventions

Carol Robinson, Loughborough University


Over the last six months, colleagues at Exeter, Birmingham and Loughborough Universities have been implementing the mathematics support interventions.

This is in response to findings from Phase 1 of the project which established an issue with the mathematical skills preparedness and mathematical confidence of BTEC students, and other students, who have not studied mathematics post-16 when undertaking quantitative first year modules at university.

The type of additional support being offered at each of the three universities differs and has been created in response to particular local needs and resources. A brief outline of each of the three strands of the intervention follows. First year students who have not studied mathematics post-16, are strongly encouraged to avail themselves of the support.


University of Exeter Business School

Alison Truelove, Graham Perkins and Marwa Tourky are leading this work. Additional mathematics support includes: Maths and Stats helpdesk (staffed by PhD students); a series of regular workshops on key topics such as algebra, differentiation, hypothesis testing and practical statistics (using SPSS); links to key high quality online resources, e.g. mathcentre and statstutor.


Birmingham Business School

Rob Fleming leads this work and the emphasis is on targeted online support. Students who have struggled with maths/stats in the first semester are encouraged to undertake supplementary work using the online learning platform MyMaths. Direct links are provided by Rob to relevant material, which includes a range of ready-made lessons and online tasks. Tracking of student progress is an additional asset.


Loughborough University School of Business and Economics

Keith Pond leads this work. One important feature is the teaching of first year quantitative skills modules in two groups – one for those who have studied mathematics post-16 and one for those who have not. Students are also actively encouraged to make use of the award-winning Mathematics Learning Support Centre. As at Exeter, links are provided on the VLE to relevant online resources.


Next Steps

Over the last few weeks we have been undertaking a detailed evaluation of the maths support interventions and using this to inform our approaches for Semester 1, 18/19. Updates to appear in a future blog!

Supporting student success in Higher Education

Rebecca Morris, University of Birmingham

When university students underperform or drop out, a typical response is to question whether the individuals or groups who are struggling have had enough support with their studies. Are there systems in place to help the students who need it? And are these systems available and accessible to all?

One of the key findings to emerge from the interviews we undertook with HE students was how aware they were of the support on offer at university. They knew that they had a personal tutor who they could talk to and that lecturers offered office hours and drop-in sessions. They also knew that there are services to help with a range of academic practice skills as well as social and welfare issues.

But frequently those who had reported having challenges during their first year told us that they did not access this support. Some expressed regret at this, believing that if they had used the help on offer, their end of year performance may have been better. This finding is important as it prompts us to ask why students choose not to utilise this support.

The students we talked to often struggled to articulate clearly what had prevented them from accessing support, whether that be meetings with lecturers or tutors, attending sessions run to improve academic literacy or numeracy, or participating in mentoring schemes. What did emerge though was a sense of a stigma attached to active engagement with support opportunities at university, a sense of embarrassment at having to ask for help. Some also indicated that a lack of confidence prevented them from seeking help when they needed it, echoing the views of some HE lecturers too.

Crucially, if we believe that the support on offer to students is of value, these findings encourage us to think about how universities can develop and improve their existing systems to ensure that those who most need it actually access it. Might there even be a need for universities to compel engagement with support for groups we know struggle with this?

These findings have been influential in informing the interventions designed as part of the second phase of this project. One example includes the implementation of a more rigorous personal tutoring system, including additional meetings for students, increased guidance for tutors and new methods for monitoring engagement. Another intervention involves the creation of an online module targeted at BTEC students, accessible from the pre-enrolment stage, and designed to offer support with a range of academic practice skills.

A key focus in developing these has been to consider how we can encourage increased student participation and engagement. Does making an aspect of support mandatory ensure that it happens? Do information or incentive strategies help to encourage support take-up?   And what does the targeting of support mean for inclusion and equality of opportunity?

These are just some of the challenges and tensions that are being negotiated through the current implementation and evaluation stages of this project. We’ll be following up soon with further blogs on how the interventions have worked in practice.