Rainbow Arithmetic Scheme

A little and often


The strategy of focusing on arithmetic skills throughout Key Stages 2 & 3 by addressing and practising skills in the first few minutes of each lesson is being used to good effect in a number of the region’s schools.

But Rainbow Arithmetic is more than just a set of FREE resources that enables teachers to do this. At its heart is a set of principles that have a lot in common with the "teaching for mastery" style of learning that many colleagues are developing as they are getting to grips with the new National Curriculum.

Additionally as schools are being encouraged to consider the benefit of using a common approach to the development of arithmetic skills, ideally in coordination within a primary/secondary pyramid the Rainbow scheme can provide the scaffold within which clusters of schools can collaborate.


Addressing Key Stage 3 Arithmetic work group 

This work group will focus on supporting schools to use the Rainbow strategy appropriately and effectively and will make use of IRIS Connect and FROG learning platforms with additional face to face support from practising teachers. There are a number of different options for schools to engage with this FREE professional development, so schools are encouraged to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further details or complete the online expression of interest form at

Secondary work groups (to register an interest)



How it began

The Rainbow strategy came about as a result of looking for resources that regularly gave practice of a variety of the basic arithmetic skills. Since none were readily available at that time, in-house worksheets were developed. These were either used once a week in either a practice lesson or given for homework.

Despite KS3 being supposedly "setted" for ability it became apparent that there was a wide range of students' capabilities that quickly resulted in differentiated resources being required to cater for the varied needs. Hence a colour system that started with Red (easiest) to Ultra-Violet (hardest)

More than just practice

Once a week gave way to regular "start of lesson" practice interspersed with short episodes of learning that addressed misconceptions and procedural errors. The use of mini-whiteboards became an essential feature of these explanatory sessions that focussed on a single conceptual element or arithmetic skill.

The practice element continued in intervening sessions either focussing on a single aspect just covered or back to a mix of skills appropriate to the level of the students.

The importance of written solutions

Homework then became a different type of practice. Over time the emphasis of homework focused on presentation and clear explanation of working. So the scheme incorporated quick-fire practice at the start of lessons and more considered application of skills at home.

Randomised questions & on-line support

The need to quickly produce a large number of questions for students to tackle prompted a greater use of the random function of spreadsheets. These could be used to easily create a starter or a practice homework which many teachers found an invaluable tool.

On-line support for students ranged from VLE based explanations to Youtube videos and a structure of learning objectives was created mostly in-line with the National Curriculum that gave students clear targets to achieve before moving to the next colour. The next step is to develop on-line resources that use iconic structure to support conceptual understanding.

Targeted feedback and problem solving

The strategy of using Rainbow starters for either practice or focussed learning has been consistent, but the development of the use of homework to develop multi-step skills and "follow-up" homework to address individual students' needs took the homework to the next level.

The practice of fortnightly individualised follow up homework based on a student’s previous submitted work has greatly helped target individual progress.

The practice of setting problems using skills from a previous level has also allowed students to tackle more confidently the unfamiliar or applied aspect of problem solving.

Want to find out more?

This overview can in no way satisfactorily describe the Rainbow pedagogy but colleagues are encouraged to examine the resources available and consider the face to face professional development support available to schools.

Schools with access to IRIS Connect (freely available for all South Yorkshire schools) will soon be able to see exemplar videos of the whole programme in action.

If you would like to discuss a presentation for your school please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

FREE resources: Click on pictures to open

Feel free to use these and distribute and share with others. You may not sell these resources and it would be appreciated if you acknowledged the contribution of the Notre Dame maths department in their development. Please note spreadsheet erquire macros to be enabled to work correctly.


The interactive spreadsheets that make up the question bank is the core resource used by teachers in the Rainbow strategy in the classroom. The questions are sub-divided by colour and strand and can easily be edited to create a bespoke resource to meet the needs of a particular group. 

Randomised spreadsheet starters with preset challenges for a variety of levels, use bottom tabs to select different ones



Question bank of over 200 different randomised questions classified into type and level - from which bespoke challenges can be created


Level Descriptors

You will notice that each colour/level is sub-divided into strands and each has a short description of the "skill/concept" being targeted for development.

These are NOT strictly along national curriculum lines but for approximate comparison BLUE is in line with the expectation of Y6. The strategy is aimed at practising & developing skills in KS2 & 3 so not directly relevant for KS1.

However aspirationally KS1 = Red, Orange = Y3, Yellow = Y4, Green = Y5, Blue = Y6, Indigo = Y7


Start of Y7 Assessment

This is used at ND in the first week, teachers are encouraged to adapt something similar for their own purposes as they know their students best.

For obvious reasons we do not make this assessment freely available via the website but please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request a copy


Homework Sheets

For those of you familiar with the older resources you will notice a slight shift of emphasis towards a balance between the straightforward computational questions and multi-step problems. This suits the ND version of Rainbow however it is now much easier to create your own set of homework or independent study sheets.


There are over 50 pre-written homeworks across the range of levels a selection of which acn be found at the evry bottom of this page.

- if you would like more examples or the full set please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

So much more than just a set of resources

The 4 rules practice spreadsheet is an example of just one resource amongst many available that can be used to practice. However what is ESSENTIAL for teachers to understand is that this resource as well as all the Rainbow resources are only effective if they are used effectively. The success of Rainbow as a strategy is HOW it has been used in schools as a developmental tool to support teachers TEACH procedural techniques alongside conceptual understanding AND allow students to PRACTICE without requiring an over burdensome amount of preparation.


For more details about the Rainbow strategy feel free to contact the South Yorkshire Maths Hub at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Last modified onWednesday, 20 June 2018 17:49
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