England to adopt ‘Shanghai maths’ teaching methods

Schools in England are to receive funding to teach maths methods used in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong schools.

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England’s schools are to adopt a new method of teaching maths, according to recent Department for Education announcement. The south Asian ‘mastery’ approach to teaching maths is set to be rolled out across half of England’s primary schools with an extra £41 million of extra funding for training and support.

Increasing pupil performance in maths 

Following positive reports from international education league tables, the Asian ‘mastery’ approach has been found to significantly increase pupil performance, in fact recent international tests show that in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong the percentage of 15-year-olds who are ‘functionally innumerate’ - unable to perform basic calculations - was more than 10 percentage points lower than in England. Schools Minister Nick Gibb, who visited Shanghai in March to see maths teaching in practice, believes that the approach will help to drive up standards in England’s schools.“We are seeing a renaissance in maths teaching in this country,” said Mr Gibb, “with good ideas from around the world helping to enliven our classrooms.“The significant expansion of the south Asian 'maths mastery' approach can only add to the positive momentum, with thousands more young people having access to specialist teachers and quality textbooks.“I am confident that the steps we are taking now will ensure young people are properly prepared for further study and the 21st century workplace, and that the too-often heard phrase ‘can’t do maths’ is consigned to the past.”

The Asian 'maths mastery' approach

The Asian ‘maths mastery’ approach is characterised by careful planning with a knowledge of every pupil’s understanding of the subject. ‘Maths mastery’ involves children being taught as a whole class, building depth of understanding of the structure of maths, supported by the use of high-quality textbooks. Teacher exchange programmes between England and Shanghai, led by a network of maths hubs, have helped teachers from England to explore and understand the method.However, the National Union of Teachers claim that the evidence that the government has used to support the validity of the teaching methods should be held up for further scrutiny. The government’s recommendations for adopting the new maths teaching approach is predicated on the results of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests which are sat every three years by 15 year olds across the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Shanghai tops the international charts in maths

In the results for the 2012 tests Shanghai topped the international rankings in all of the three subjects tested – maths science and reading. But, says the NUT, Shanghai is home to the wealthiest and most highly educated Chinese citizens. Although data from 12 rural provinces is also collected by PISA, it is not published so does not form part of the international picture for China’s educational achievements.The NUT also argues that in fact, according to another international education league table, England’s schools are demonstrating world-leading maths performance. For example, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) published in December 2012 showed that England was in the top 10 countries for both primary and secondary maths and was one of the most improved countries for maths from 1995-2011.So far 140 teachers from primary schools in England have been trained by a National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) which was established by the government to help schools adopt the mastery approach.

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