London just got FunKey: How peer mentoring can help to improve students’ maths skills

By Maggie Steel, CEO FunKey Maths



This year FunKey Maths arrived in London with twelve schools from Tower Hamlets joining the maths peer mentoring programme.

At FunKey Maths we believe that it’s all too easy for children who get little or no support at home to fall behind peers in their first few years at school. Often all they need is additional practice and encouragement. But when we can’t provide that in school, children can quickly conclude that they are no good at maths. And that is when problems can really start.

In times of tight budget constraints, how do you provide the additional 1:1 practice and attention some children need to succeed? FunKey Maths believes the answer is by harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of Year 5 children to provide mentoring support to younger children.

Our FunKey Maths peer mentoring programme trains Year 5 students to work with children in Year 2 on a 1:1 basis, three times a week for 15 minutes. The Year 5 students deliver a highly structured programme of activities which facilitate intelligent practice of key skills in areas such as counting and place value.  

The training we provide at FunKey Maths is critical to the success of our programme. Year 5 students don’t just learn WHAT to do, but critically HOW to do it. We show them how to work with a younger child to get the best out of them. They learn how to encourage and energise their partners, and how to correct errors positively. Mentors are shown how our words and communication styles impact on others and the importance of role modelling and what leadership means.


Maggie, the CEO of FunKey Maths and a primary school teacher believes that “Often children who have very poor focus when working with an adult will engage fully with another child; they see what they are doing not as work, but play.”

Izzie, a Year 5 mentor, explains it well when talking about her mentee:

“They like playing the games. It helps them remember. When I was little, I really remembered the things that were fun, not the things that were boring.”

An evaluation in May 2018 of the FunKey Maths Peer Mentoring programme by Dr Marcus Witt, Senior Lecturer in Primary Mathematics Education at the University of the West of England, suggested that the programme is effective in improving maths scores for mentees. He found the intervention to be highly successful, and described the gains made in maths as “considerable and highly statistically significant.”

Dr Witt reported that the impact made from FunKey Maths is highly cumulative: “The short, but frequent nature of the intervention coupled with the fact that, within each session, there are a number of games, each reinforcing a particular concept, or piece of understanding, suggests that the intervention has been designed to maximise retention and understanding.”

But the impact on students goes beyond the improvement in maths skills; teachers report that the programme also boosts the confidence of all the participants, not just the mentees, and not just in maths. We hear time and again about children who, after joining the programme, find their voice, and put their hands up in class to answer questions for the first time.

Corey, aged 6, is one example. Grinning from ear to ear he announced: “I’m really good at place value now.”

Next year, two teachers from Tower Hamlets are going to become the first FunKey Regional Trainers. Both teachers have run the FunKey programme in their own schools and will be trained up to show other teachers how to do it.

If you are a teacher and interested in joining our programme, our next training sessions are scheduled for September. Please contact us on to find out more.

Alongside its work on peer mentoring, FunKey Maths has also developed some fantastic cards which help children get to grips with the maths behind times tables. To celebrate Maths Week London, FunKey Maths and Nesta’s Maths Mission are offering 50 free packs of times tables cards so you can try them out at home or in school. To get your free pack, you will need to use the coupon code LONDON. Free cards are only available to the first 50 customers using the coupon. One free pack only per customer.

Our work in Tower Hamlets has been subsidised this year by Maths Mission, a partnership set up by Tata and Nesta in 2017 aiming to find innovative ways to increase young people’s interest in maths, and improve their maths and collaborative problem-solving skills.  Following an evaluation of the Maths Mission pilot programmes, Nesta has been working with FunKey Maths to reach more schools across the UK including in London.