A new teacher-led maths programme agreed with China will mean teachers from the best schools in the world will teach in and work with schools in England, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss announced recently.
She said that the programme – part of the Government’s £11m new maths hubs programme, a national network of maths centres of excellence – would spread best teaching practice and raise standards in the subject.
Up to 60 English-speaking maths teachers from China will be embedded in the 30 maths hubs, starting this autumn term. They will promote their teaching methods, including teaching to the top and helping struggling pupils one-on-one, and daily maths lessons, homework and feedback. The Chinese teachers will also run masterclasses for local schools and provide subject-specific on-the-job teacher training.
Two leading English maths teachers from each of the 30 maths hubs will work in schools in China – such as the high-performing maths jurisdiction of Shanghai – for at least a month, and up to a year, to learn their world-class teaching approaches. The teachers will then put into practice in England what they have learnt and spread this widely to their peers.
The deal has been struck with the Department for Education and the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission.
Shanghai topped the OECD’s PISA 2012 tables, with 15-year-olds there judged to be three years ahead of their counterparts here. The top seven in the maths rankings were all Far East jurisdictions. The UK was placed 26th, with our performance found to have stagnated between 2006 and 2012.
The programme is the latest stage in the Government’s top-to-bottom overhaul of maths to arrest a slide in standards.
The Government is prioritising maths because of the importance of good grades in the subject to young people competing for good jobs in a global labour market and to the economy more generally.
Children with high maths scores at age 10 earn seven per cent more at age 30 than those with lower scores, even after pupil characteristics and later qualifications were taken into account, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Research shows those with A level maths earn between seven and 10 per cent more than similarly skilled workers who do not have the qualification.
Elizabeth Truss, who has recently returned from a week-long fact-finding mission to China, said:
“As part of our long term economic plan, we are determined to drive up standards in our schools and give our young people the skills they need to succeed on the global stage.
Good maths qualifications have the greatest earnings potential and provide the strongest protection against unemployment. In Norfolk there are already some superb job opportunities; BAE systems and Rolls Royce at RAF Marham, engineering at Hethel, bio sciences in Norwich – all of these require a sound knowledge and understanding of mathematics.
High-quality maths teaching is an essential part of that and this collaborative, teacher-led programme is a fantastic opportunity for us – there is so much evidence that teacher-to-teacher, school-to-school programmes are hugely effective.
We have some brilliant maths teachers in this country but what I saw in Shanghai – and other Chinese cities – has only strengthened my belief that we can learn from them.
“They have a can-do attitude to maths – and I want us to match that, and their performance.”
The exchange programme is a key part of the objective of the maths hubs, bidding for which opened today. Each of the 30 lead schools will be linked to a number of expert schools in their area, which will then spread best practice to other schools in their locality. The programme will be co-ordinated by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM).
The hubs will:
Lead on innovation projects such as the China Teacher Exchange Programme
Drive recruitment of maths specialists into teaching;
Co-ordinate and deliver a wide range of maths CPD and school-to-school support;
ensure maths leadership is developed;
help maths enrichment programmes to reach a large number of pupils from primary school onwards; and
increase the number of 16- to 18-year-olds in England taking maths.
Andreas Schleicher, the head of the education arm of the respected OECD, said the maths hubs programme – the latest stage in the Government’s top-to-bottom overhaul of maths – had the potential to be “transformational”.
“We know from PISA that similar math content is taught very differently in England and in Shanghai, with the use of ‘word problems’ dominant in England while teachers in Shanghai emphasise deep conceptual understanding.
“The ‘math hubs’ provide a unique environment for teachers to work together to frame good practice.
“They could be transformational by helping teachers improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and to pursue professional development that leads to stronger educational practice.”
Charlie Stripp, director of the NCETM, said:
“Despite the obvious cultural differences between the UK and the Far East, there are definitely things we can learn from the way mathematics is taught in China.
“Central to the principles behind the creation of the new Maths Hubs is collaboration between schools, and the potential gains from teachers observing and learning from each other. So the Shanghai teacher exchange chimes exactly with what the Maths Hubs are about.
Rachel de Souza, who leads the Inspiration Trust of academies, said:
“The mathematics teaching in Shanghai was truly impressive. From kindergarten to 19 years old, pupils are taught by specialist mathematics teachers and the high standard of arithmetic we saw everywhere simply took my breath away. Teacher collaboration and a relentless focus on high-quality planning is at the core of Shanghai success. Teachers share lesson plans on a common website and are genuinely proud when others select the plan to teach from.
“There is an appetite for high performance in the subject and the widely cited belief that ‘hard work not innate ability is the key to being great at maths’ means that all attain very high levels of mathematical skills.
“We have much to learn from Shanghai and everyone I met was equally keen to learn from our education successes.”
A group of heads and teachers from 46 schools in England visited Shanghai and Ningbo last year. A report published in December showed a number of changes had already been implemented. These include creating additional teacher development time, which schools say has led to a marked improvement in pupils’ teaching grades.