What is MAES?

The Mathematics Anxiety and Engagement Strategy aims to improve mathematics teaching and learning in the early years to address the decline in Australian students’ mathematics achievement at the earliest and most significant developmental stage. This will be achieved by working with the individuals who have power to make a difference in children’s mathematics education – parents, educators. MAES builds on ACER’s previous and current research on mathematics anxiety[1].

Why is it needed?

Recent findings from PISA and TIMSS, international studies that assess mathematics skills in children around the world, show that Australian students’ achievement in primary and high school mathematics is falling, particularly for disadvantaged students[2]. If children start school with poor mathematics skills, this may significantly affect their academic development through primary and secondary school. Therefore, successfully developing early mathematics skills is crucial for schooling as well as economic opportunities in adult life.

Many families and early childhood teachers are unsure of how they can support children to develop mathematical skills. There is also evidence that levels of mathematics anxiety are increasing amongst Australian students[3]. This is concerning as students who are more anxious about mathematics tend to achieve at lower levels than their non-anxious peers[4]. Primary teachers can also experience high levels of mathematics anxiety[5]. This can impact on their teaching confidence as well as the strategies they use when teaching mathematics and can also lead to avoidance of teaching mathematics lessons[6].

What will MAES do?

MAES will have both a prevention and intervention focus. As part of the prevention focus, MAES will help pre-service primary and early childhood teachers to understand and address mathematics anxiety before these educators enter the teaching workforce.

For its intervention focus, MAES will work with early childhood centres and primary schools in Australia to improve mathematics engagement as well as decrease mathematics anxiety. It will equip teachers to be better able to identify and address mathematics anxiety in their students and build positive engagement with mathematics. It will also train early childhood teachers to better develop children’s early mathematics skills.

During this work, MAES will also collect research data to evaluate the effectiveness of its work.

Where the project is at and what’s next?

The MAES team at ACER are currently building a network of interested universities, schools and education departments across the country before it begins its prevention and intervention work.

ACER is also looking for partners to support MAES’ prevention and intervention work. If you are interested in being involved in the project or in being a partner, please contact XXX to express your interest.


[1] Buckley, Reid, Lipp, Goos, Bethune & Thomson, In press

[2] Thomson, De Bortoli & Underwood, 2017; Thomson, Wernert, O’Grady & Rodrigues, 2017

[3] Schmid, 2018

[4] Thomson, DeBortoli & Buckley, 2013

[5] Hembree, 1990; Phillip, 2007

[6] Brush, 1982; Gresham, 2009; Trujillo & Hadfield, 1999