Matthew DUFFY, aged 11, is sitting in front of the headteacher with a confession to make. “Long division,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I didn’t get it at all.”

Beside Matthew sits eight-year-old Evie Wilson. “I found fractions really hard,” she admits. “I was stuck.”

For 10-year-old Emma Graham it was mental arithmetic. “I didn’t want to do it,” she chips in. “I wasn’t happy, I didn’t think I could do it and I felt a bit bad.”

The children sitting in the library at St Bernadette’s Primary School in Stenhousemuir, near Falkirk, all have a similar story.

It goes along the lines of: “Maths was hard, not being able to do sums made me unhappy. Now it’s not that bad after all.”

Listening to how they have turned negative “can’t do” feelings towards maths to conquering the subject, is school headteacher Marianne Savage.

She and her staff have spent the past few months piling praise on the children – not when they get sums right, but when they get them wrong.

“We celebrate our mistakes,” she says. “We’re saying everyone makes mistakes and that’s okay.

“It has opened up young people’s minds to the fact it’s not that they are bad at maths, it’s just they have to try a bit more.”

The school has embraced the increasingly popular “mindset strategy” approach, which shifts focus from heaping praise on pupils for their successes, to congratulating them for their effort even when they get answers to sums wrong. As well as introducing positive language aimed at encouraging children to persevere and not give up, pupils use classroom tools to illustrate to the entire class when they are having problems learning.

Far from risking ridicule for not grasping what fellow students have already managed, says Ms Savage, pupils band together to help out those who are struggling.

While it’s too early to confirm the change in teaching style has had a dramatic impact on attainment levels, staff are convinced it has brought fresh positivity among pupils faced with tricky maths tasks, with less stress and a spirit of mutual support among pupils.

Of course, it’s probably cold comfort for National 5 and Higher pupils who are currently in the grip of exam season and wracked with worry. For them, no amount of praise for their effort alone can really compete with a coveted ‘pass’ mark.

But it’s hoped the approach will encourage more pupils to go on to achieve better results in maths – often seen as a subject that’s “too hard” or not worth pursuing despite being a vital component in helping to plug the STEM skills gap.

Last year 42,188 pupils sat National 5 maths; 31 per cent achieved an A grade pass, 17% were awarded a B pass and 16% graded C passes.

Meanwhile, in 2016, the SQA was forced to defend its National 5 Maths paper after a petition was raised claiming it was too hard, while the previous year’s Higher exam pass rate was set at just 34% after complaints were raised over its difficulty.

According to mindset strategy advocates, better outcomes could be rooted in how younger pupils are encouraged to learn from mistakes, rather than praised for success.

Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, California, developed the concept after becoming concerned that a culture of praising achievement led children to believe they had reached their full potential, while others were left feeling defeated.

She suggested highlighting effort instead would build resilience and encourage them to work harder for results.

A similar approach has been adopted in sport: elite athletes and coaches have embraced “growth mindset” to help eliminate fear of failure and encourage effort rather than dwelling on defeat.

Former Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend, who encountered the strategy through sports charity Winning Scotland Foundation, went so far as to introduce his players to Professor Dweck.

At St Bernadette’s, teachers and pupils are using a range of growth mindset techniques.

One involves pupils sending themselves “to the pit” – a wall chart where they pin their names to show what they are struggling with, adding notes to explain how they will work to move on to the next stage.

Another tool, explains Ms Savage, is the class “Challenge-o-meter”, which they use to determine whether they are in a fixed mindset – in which they have talked themselves into believing they will fail – or a more confident growth mindset. Younger pupils use four classroom puppets to illustrate resilience, perseverance, confidence and motivation.

“The children showed a lot of anxiety towards maths, it’s an area where they might give up easily and not accept the challenge once a mistake is made,” explains Ms Savage. “We had children who would just give up and sit there quietly.

“The hand goes down, the book is closed. Now they recognise that is just frustration and it’s not that they are not able to do it.”

The programme is being developed in schools across 29 local authorities by sports charity Winning Scotland Foundation, which hopes it could eventually become embedded in how the national curriculum is taught.

“Any successful sports person will talk about how many setbacks and failures they’ve had, and that it’s the mistakes that make them,” says spokesman Richard Orr. “If someone has a task they know is difficult, they’ll approach it with a fixed mindset that they are not going to do well, and they will do what they can to avoid looking bad.

“They have this idea they are not very good and, rather than look bad, they should avoid it so people can’t laugh at them. “By approaching these challenges with a growth mindset, they accept it will be hard. But if they view mistakes as an opportunity to learn, they will get better.”

It’s particularly effective in maths, he adds.

“There are a lot of reasons why people struggle in maths. We lower expectations, students are told by parents they weren’t very good at maths, so don’t worry about it. It’s acceptable to be poor at numeracy but not reading and writing.”

Meanwhile, back at St Bernadette’s, 11-year-old Tom Green is reflecting on days when maths lessons brought a knot of anxiety and frustration. “I didn’t get fractions,” he says. “I’d get stuck.

“Now I look at maths as a challenge.

I can see I’m in the pit and that’s not a bad thing.

“Now I’m learning to enjoy learning it.”