Last Updated: Monday, December 21, 2020

Differentiated learning in numeracy and mathematics (2015): Briefing 1

What is this?

A short, practitioner-focused research briefing which summarises research on differentiated learning and considers how it could be used to improve learner outcomes in numeracy and mathematics. It has a particular focus on meeting the needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Who is this for?

Teachers, practitioners, local authority staff, educational psychologists and others who are involved in planning or supporting learning in numeracy or mathematics.

​About the research

How was the research carried out?

The briefing draws on a range of existing research including small and large scale studies and reviews. The majority of research comes from the USA.

What are the strengths of the research methodology?

Although this is not a comprehensive overview of the research in this area, it is designed to be a useful starting point in becoming familiar with relevant research.

What is the context for this research?

This briefing was produced to support professional reflection as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Education Scotland’s Corporate Plan explicitly seeks to develop capacity in promoting the translation of knowledge into action for systematic improvement.

Reflective questions

The following questions may provide a stimulus for discussion:

  • In what ways do you differentiate for learning in numeracy and mathematics within your classroom? What range of strategies do you use?
  • How do you know these strategies are effective?
  • Are your learners aware of what differentiation is and how it can support them in their learning?
  • In what ways are you meeting the learning needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds within your class or school?

About the author(s)

The briefing was developed by the Analytical Services Team at Education Scotland, working in partnership with educational staff with responsibility for mathematics and numeracy.

Related research/reading

Education Scotland – National Numeracy Progression Framework

Ministry of Education, Ontario (Canada) – Differentiating Mathematics Instruction – Capacity Building Guide (PDF)

Education Endowment Foundation – Setting or streaming


This briefing is not a comprehensive overview of published research in a particular area. Nor is it a definitive statement of policy or a recommendation to adopt a particular approach.

Full reference

Education Scotland (2015). Differentiated Learning in Numeracy and Mathematics: Briefing 1. Livingston: Education Scotland.

Full research article

PDF file: Briefing 1: Differentiated learning in numeracy and mathematics (215 KB)