Centres for Excellence in Maths

The Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme is a national improvement project aimed at delivering a step change in maths teaching up to Level 2 in post-16 settings, with a focus on 16-19 year olds. It is funded by the Department for Education (DfE) which has chosen the Education and Training Foundation, the national workforce development body for the Further Education and Training sector, to manage and lead this programme on its behalf.


The Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme is a national improvement programme aimed at delivering a step change in maths teaching up to Level 2 in post-16 settings, with a focus on 16-19 year olds. It is funded by the Department for Education (DfE) which has chosen the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), the national workforce development body for the Further Education (FE) and Training sector, to manage and lead this programme on its behalf.

Over the next three years, the ETF will work with a range of expert delivery partners and the 21 Centres to design new and improved teaching approaches, develop quality teaching resources, build teachers’ skills and spread best practice across the country through maths networks. This is to help increase the number of young people leaving compulsory education with the necessary maths skills up to GCSE and Functional Skills level, to improve their employability, and engagement with further learning.

Core Themes of Activity

The programme is focussed primarily on four themes of activity:

  • An adapted mastery approach to mathematics, suitable for the post-16 sector
  • Approaches to contextualisation which relate maths to real-world situations
  • Motivating and engaging learners
  • The use of data and technology within mathematics education in the sector.

Core Programme

The ambition of the programme is simple – to improve outcomes for students up to level 2. This is being undertaken in a range of ways:

  • The establishment of 21 Centres for Excellence in Maths: Grant funded by DfE, these Centres are providers in the Further Education sector selected as organisations with the commitment, capacity and system leadership skills required to drive innovation and improvement in both their institution and beyond.
  • Local networks of partners for each Centre: Ten or more provider organisations will partner with every Centre to share practice, learn from each other and from national activity. This will be important to ensuring the programme reaches and benefits the entire post-16 Further Education sector.
  • Evidence gathering: The delivery partnership includes organisations targeting collation and creation of evidence and research to better inform Centres and the wider sector of what interventions and actions may work well.
  • Resources and handbooks: A number of evidence-based documents and resources will be developed and gathered to help inform teaching, and to support the trialling of some key methods or ideas. They will be freely available to all teachers and providers in the sector.
  • Trials and research: The Centres and the University of Nottingham will work together to carry out a range of research trials looking at aspects of the four themes. These are planned to develop over time, progressively targeting promising areas of work to support the sector.
  • Training and Development: The Centres are able to spend their grant funding on CPD and support. In addition, the programme provides centralised CPD for the Centres to ensure they all work to similar standards. Once initial trials have been carried out, wider training will be offered to upskill teachers in the methods / learning that has been developed.
  • Support and challenge: The Centres, partner providers and the wider sector will be both supported and challenged to change their practices with the goal of improving learner outcomes.

The programme is a collaborative sharing and learning project with teachers and students at its heart. It is a government funded collaboration with no commercial goals, and is targeting learners from any qualification, exam board or background equally.

The CfEM programme will ensure it supports learners with diverse needs, develops ways to stretch and challenge able learners who may have struggled in a school environment, and will be as responsive as possible to the context of the different providers in the sector.

Expert Partners

A range of expert partners have come together to support this exciting programme, each with different expertise and work they will be developing.

The consortium delivering this work includes:

  • University of Nottingham: leading on the evidence base for our work and delivering a range of trials across the sector from September 2019. They will be working directly with the Centres to support wider research and trials. They will continue to build on their extensive world-renowned maths research base to advise the sector on what may be most effective.
  • Behavioural Insights Team (BIT): supporting colleges and wider partners to understand the underlying motivational challenges faced by students studying up to level 2 at post-16. They will be expanding on previous work and research they have carried out in this area and will work with the Centres to understand what more can be done to motivate learners at this challenging time.
  • Association of Colleges (AoC): supporting networking and impact across the sector, including a range of national forums and methodology specific networks. As the national membership body for colleges they will be using their considerable voice in the sector to help champion the work of the Centres and the delivery team and support individual teachers through the networks being established.
  • Pearson: leading on the preparation of evidence informed resources and handbooks for the sector. The resources and guides needed for work of this kind need to be high quality and robust publications. Pearson bring their market leading expertise to help develop these publications, which as government funded documents will be permanently copyright free and available to download from the ETF website. They will carry out resource audits and work with the Centres as necessary to help develop their ideas into stronger materials, which will remain free for the sector to use and credit the Centres that help develop them.
  • EEDI: supporting the delivery consortium and the Centres with a baseline diagnostic approach for all the Centres. As a market leading digital assessment and learning company, EEDI already have substantial evidence of what many young people do and do not understand at GCSE. Their baseline tests will be simple to use, short, and form the basis of national data for the Centres and partners.
  • Touchconsulting (TC): delivering evidence-based Leadership Training and Professional Development for Post-16 Advanced Practitioners. A long-standing partner of the ETF, Touchconsulting deliver evidence based CPD focussing on building communities of practitioners who can support each other over time. They will underpin the early phases of the programme with training in leadership and teaching methods appropriate to the research and trials being proposed.
  • White Rose Maths: are advising on aspects of mastery teaching. The ETF will also work closely with the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and Maths Hubs, to ensure good links and sharing between the programmes.

In addition, we will be drawing on a wide range of independent experts and organisations to help develop the programme further. We are committed to working with the Centres and their partners to find and champion the excellence that already exists in maths education in the sector, and will be testing this with our experts, sharing the most effective examples with the widest possible audience.

We intend to have all the Centres represented in our outputs through case studies, research reports, conference presentations or other work that demonstrates their continued work to be a space for excellence in maths teaching, and believe that an evidence informed, sector-based approach to this challenge should bring success for all those involved.

News and updates

CfEM Newsletter

The monthly CfEM newsletter brings the latest updates and resources from the four themes of activity. You can access previous editions of the newsletter below.

Sign up to receive this newsletter (select the ‘Maths and English’ box)

2020 2019

In the news

Brand and style guidelines

Brand and style guidelines for use by delivery partners in the production of CfEM resources are now available. Contact Charley Francis for these.

Centres for Excellence in Maths leaflet

Other relevant maths workforce development by the ETF

The ETF runs many other initiatives and programmes separate to the CfEM programme. These look to improve the maths workforce development in the FE sector, which some might find relevant for the CfEM work being done. These include:

  • The ETF’s CPD support for maths and English teachers webpage.
  • inTuition Maths supplement
    The special supplement of the Summer 2018 edition of the Society for Education and Training’s inTuition journal focused on maths. Read the supplement.
  • Potential benefits of teaching for maths mastery to adult learners highlighted on this webpage.
  • Support in developing learners’ embedded maths skills for practitioners delivering T Levels through the TLPD offer.

Research, development and implementation

The Centre for Research in Maths Education at the University of Nottingham will lead the research, development and implementation of high-quality approaches to teaching maths in the Centres (and their wider networks), and in particular with respect to post-16 maths up to level 2.

This will involve trials of carefully designed approaches organised under four broad themes, leading to the generation of high quality, robust evidence. The key foci for the work of Centres and associated trials are summarised for each theme (mastery, motivating and engaging learners, contextualisation and use of technology and data). These priorities are based on existing literature and current research.

In selecting appropriate and workable approaches to trial in the 19-20 academic year, consideration has been given to appropriateness and workability of approaches leading to the development of a clear framework for college-based trials. Their priority throughout will be maths learning and provision in specifically timetabled maths lessons. This will be reviewed in future years to take account of emerging evidence and other potential avenues for exploration.

Core Themes of Activity

The programme is focussed primarily on four themes of activity:

Resources and Tools

National Trials

From September 2021, the Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme will include an extensive randomised control trial of approaches to teaching for Mastery in Further Education (FE) colleges across the country. The approach will help learners develop understanding of concepts relevant to the GCSE mathematics curriculum and address the needs of those on GCSE resit programmes. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to support these approaches to teaching will be a primary focus of these trials, including opportunities provided in the form of collaborative cluster group meetings for participating teachers. We are currently seeking to appoint Lead Teachers to coordinate and lead these groups.

All teachers who took part in the CfEM national trials in 2019-20 (any theme) are eligible to apply but must have the approval of a senior manager in their college and the support of their Centre Lead. Any teachers who are interested in applying and require further information should first contact their Centre Lead. Applications should be submitted by Friday 15 January, 2021.

If you require any further information about the programme, please do not hesitate to contact CfEM@etfoundation.co.uk for further information.