COMPUTER games have a reputation as a wasteful distraction from more useful tasks such as reading.

But a new study shows computer-based learning games have had a significant impact on standards in Glasgow primary schools.

A study by Edinburgh-based education technology company Sumdog has found regular use of its online maths learning system by city pupils has contributed to a reduction in the attainment gap for numeracy between rich and poor of 20 per cent in 2017/18.

The study mirrors earlier research from an independent Scottish academic which found the Sumdog approach “has a highly significant, positive impact on improvement in mathematics proficiency”.

Sumdog mirrors many of the aspects of modern app-based computer games with coin rewards for pupils answering questions correctly which can be “spent” on developing an online house or teaching digital pets new tricks.

Questions are contained in online games such as tennis, a football penalty shoot or motor racing where a correct answer gives the pupil an advantage in the race or game being played.

All of the games have a competitive aspect and pupils can choose to compete against a computer opponent, classmates or students from around the world.

Because pupils are asked their own personalised questions during the games, those of all ability levels can compete against each other fairly. The game also include teaching elements to help pupils tackle various mathematical concepts.

And pupil scores are available to teachers to help them assess what progress they are making to help plan future lessons.

Andrew Gallacher, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University who led the earlier research, said he was not surprised by the latest findings.

He said: “What we found was that pupils enjoyed playing the games both in school and at home and were more likely to engage with them in a way that was not the case with more formal worksheets.

“Because they enjoyed playing the games a lot of time was spent on the games without the pupils necessarily perceiving it as schoolwork.

“It is helping to close the attainment gap because it means pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds are spending more time learning than they would otherwise have done and that is mirroring the extra time pupils from more middle class families tend to spend on homework.”

Glasgow City Council, which is funding the project, said it intended to continue its investment next year to see how much more progress could be made.

Maureen McKenna, the city’s executive director of education, said the evidence from the Sumdog study was a promising indication of the significant role technology could play in narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap in numeracy - as well as other subjects.

She said: “Innovative interventions which are engaging as well as educational will be key to helping Glasgow’s children reach their full potential, while ensuring we achieves our goal of helping to close the attainment gap.”

Andrew Hall, chief executive of Sumdog, said the research provided compelling evidence of the effectiveness of Sumdog as an intervention targeted at achieving that goal.

He added: “We look forward to continuing to work closely with schools across Glasgow until the poverty-related attainment gap has been completely eliminated.”

Under the latest study Sumdog researchers including Dr Sara Humphries studied the progress of pupils using the Sumdog maths games for at least 30 minutes a week between August 2017 and April 2018.

They compared the performance of pupils from the most deprived schools in the city with those from the least deprived which showed that at the beginning of the school year the gap between the two groups was the equivalent of just over one academic year.

However, for those pupils regularly using Sumdog, the gap had shrunk to the equivalent of just 0.8 of an academic year by April 2018.

Sumdog Maths has been designed to engage pupils more fully with maths and numeracy learning, with particular attention paid to helping those who find the subjects challenging.

The company now works directly with a number of other councils including Edinburgh, Argyll and Bute, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire and Dundee.

Since August last year, all Glasgow pupils from P2 to S3 have access to Sumdog’s digital learning system. Teachers have also been given training on how to use the games as a teaching tool.

Set up in 1994 in Edinburgh, over 2.8 million children in 88 different countries now use Sumdog’s online learning system.