Liverpool Early Number Skills Project

Examining the influence of the home learning environment, language and cognitive abilities on children's early number skills.

The Liverpool Early Number Skills Project (LENS) is a longitudinal project that will track the development of children’s early number skills from their preschool year into primary school. Identifying the factors that support the development of early numbers skills is important because these skills provide the foundations of later mathematical attainment. Findings will determine the extent to which cognitive, language and environmental factors influence early numeracy with the aim of informing early childhood education policy and practice.

Project overview

LENS logoThe project examines the influence of the home learning environment (HLE), language skills and cognitive abilities on growth in early number skills. Our central focus is on the extent that the HLE influences the development of early number skills, but we will also analyse other environmental factors including the quality of the preschool environment and socioeconomic status.

We competed phases 1 and 2 of the study in the academic year 2016/17. In phase 1, we recruited children in their preschool year (i.e. the academic year in which they turn four). In the spring term, the children completed assessments of their early number skills. Alongside these assessments, the children’s parents completed a questionnaire gathering a range of background information and details about the children’s home learning environment. We have complete phase 1 data for over 250 children. The children in the sample have experienced a range of preschool settings (including private and voluntary settings, maintained nurseries and nursery classes within primary schools) and come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. In the summer term over 240 children from the original sample completed phase 2 of the study. These children completed a range of cognitive and language assessments. Alongside these assessments, we also observed the preschool experiences within a subsample of the settings. Phase 3 will be completed in the summer term of the academic year 2017/18. This phase will focus on follow-up assessments of the children’s early number skills and standardised assessments of their mathematics and reading attainment. We will use this longitudinal data to examine three key research questions:

  1. To what extent do preschool language and cognitive skills predict growth in early number skills?
  2. To what extent do aspects of the home learning environment predict growth in early number skills?
  3. To what extent are the relationships between the quality of the home learning environment and early number skills direct and to what extent are they indirect via the promotion of language skills?

Results aim to contribute and to extend our current understanding of the factors that promote and constrain the development of early number skills. We aim to:

  • inform policymakers and parents about the factors that constitute supportive early learning environments, which promote the development of early number skills in very young children
  • identify the factors that constrain early number skills' development, paving the way for the development of early support strategies

The project has an advisory panel that is consulted when planning and implementing different aspects of the project. This includes Professor Gaia Scerif, who is leading a related project at the University of Oxford (see details of this project) and Professor Maria Chiara Passolunghi from University of Trieste (Italy) who has expertise in developmental mathematics and mathematics learning disabilities. Dr Diahann Gallard who is based within the School of Education at LJMU is also part of the panel. Her background spans both psychology and early years education. She has insight into ways to disseminate to practitioners and can make suggestions for ways to reach stakeholders including children. Jayne Challiner who is currently Service Manager for Early Years in Wigan. She is leading the Early Years Excellence Partnership and has successfully led the Early Implementation of 30 hours extended entitlement for working parents across Wigan. She has also successfully developed and implemented a number of key Early Years projects such as the ‘2 year old Integrated Review’, the DfE pilot for childminder agencies and the DfE funded ‘Ready Steady Play’ project. She enables the project team to engage in directly with Early Years practioners. We have also sought additional input from Mr Jamie Roy (Director of New Brighton Day Nursery).


Nuffield FoundationLENS is funded by a Nuffield Foundation Research and Innovation grant entitled ‘Understanding the influence of cognition and the home learning environment on early number skills’. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

More information is available from the Nuffield Foundation website including project specific details.

Project team and contact information

Principal Investigator:

Dr Fiona Simmons


Dr Catherine Willis


Dr Anne-Marie Adams

Research associate:

Dr Elena Soto-Calvo

Get in touch with the project team:
Email: | Telephone: 0151 904 6338