Shanghai teachers to improve maths performance

Maths teachers from Shanghai will share their teaching methods in English state schools. Meanwhile, a third of adults have trouble with numeracy, a survey shows.

When Education Minister Liz Truss visited schools in Shanghai, she praised their teachers as ‘more effective’ than their British counterparts. Now the DfE has announced that a team of 60 teachers will be recruited to raise maths performance in English schools, the Telegraph reports.

The teachers will be based in 30 new maths ‘hubs’ in schools that specialise in maths teaching for at least a month this autumn. They will train their English peers, focusing on areas like setting challenging homework and giving effective feedback, and will also take master classes for pupils

The initiative, which is part of an £11 million programme to raise maths standards, has been criticised by teachers’ leaders, who claimed that the success of Shanghai teachers has been overstated. “It is ridiculous to suggest that teachers brought in from China will have any more knowledge or expertise than teachers from other countries or indeed our own,” said NUT’s Christine Blower.

Former Conservative Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the move was needed to overcome ‘educational orthodoxy’: “Our schools too often emphasise problem-solving in real-life situations over pure mathematics. As a consequence, a lot of children are failing to gain a fluency in basic arithmetic, meaning they cannot proceed onto more challenging areas such as algebra.”

Meanwhile, a survey of more than 2,300 adults has found that many people are being held back by a poor grasp of maths, which could threaten the UK’s economic recovery. A quarter of respondents said their maths was only satisfactory and a further 7% said it was poor or very poor, resulting in their feeling held back at work, having problems in managing budgets, personal finances and with job hunting.

Do you think the Chinese teachers will improve the performance of English teachers? Share your views with the Eteach community!

19 thoughts on “Shanghai teachers to improve maths performance

  1. Any problems in English schools may well stem from how teachers were taught maths when they were at school coupled with student unwillingness to see maths as important which is probably a reflection of how their parents feel about the subject.

  2. You can only attend High School in China if you pass an admission test. No SEN or low achiever a shall pass. Why do they do so well question answered. So we should just exclude those children who struggle and bask in the glory of the clever kids. Simple,barbaric but simple!

  3. This is a joke surely?
    Agree Mike that students and parents here don’t see maths as particularly important- that’s the rub. I worked in China for five years and had to take my daughter out of Chinese school because she made progrees in Maths, but was losing her brightness, curiosity and interest. In China it is the time and discipline imposed that raises standards at the expense of what other subjects and what we say we are interested in: well-rounded skills, abilities and personalities.
    I would love to be a fly on the wall when a Chinese teacher tries to impose strict, undemocratic discipline and draconian homework tasks – exercise after exercise after exercise – on children in this country. I hope they rebel – this is not the answer.

  4. I currently teach in China and I can tell you why Chinese students do so well at Maths. They have twice as many Maths lessons as any other subject. The university entrance exam has twice the number of marks allotted to Maths as any other subject. Also Chinese students sit and listen in class and are given huge amounts of homework which they actually do. These Chinese teachers would find teaching a class of 30 UK teenagers very challenging if not impossible. Unfortunately this method of teaching does not foster the ability to think creatively or problem solve, qualities which employers in this country say they value highly.

  5. I would tend to agree with Carol. The biggest problem here in the UK is not the teacher but the pupils. They cannot see the relevance of maths to real life. Even many of my vocational students i.e plumbers, electrician, mechanics etc fail to see the relevance of maths despite the impact it has on their particular area.

  6. Let them come and show us how it’s done their way. I’m sure we will find that the basics are taught in much the same way. It will be, as mentioned earlier, the way maths is held in high regard and the amount of time students spend outside of school doing homework to get them up to speed that makes the difference. Not something that can be a quick fix. To give maths a higher profile is a good thing and will help. A focus on basic skills early on might help but if too much emphasis is placed on pure maths rather than applied it might actually be counter productive to the very youngest students starting nursery or reception…. Would be interesting to learn when pupils in other countries start formal lessons…. but that’s a whole different ball game…

  7. Suggesting that an emphasis on too much pure maths vs applied could be conterproductive suggests an element of child centres educational philpsophy, something that many Chinese schools do not suffer from.

  8. Ha ha… ! a month ago on this forum I suggested that UK maths teachers get fired en-masse, and that the government import teachers from China.

    Nice to know that Michael Gove took me seriously – or 50% seriously…

    He’s bringing in the Chinese – but will he fire the English?

  9. Thank you Carol and David for a balanced view from your personal experience. Unlike some posts. I wonder if Chinese teachers will be sent to the most challenging schools, if so I look forward to hearing of their reaction.

  10. I would like to add when a Chinese teacher enters the classroom they have probably 100% Chinese students to teach. When I enter the classroom I have a total multicultural class where in some cases English is weak. I also work in a school in a deprived area where I get no parent support- most of them not actually speaking English. I think it would be interesting to see how a Chinese teacher would cope with this!

  11. My son is studying Maths at Oxford. He works hard and enjoys the extracurricular opportunities being there offers. A large proportion of his fellow undergraduates are Chinese and they never come out of their rooms, but do very well in the exams and tutorials. I think there is a whole cultural reason why Chinese students excel in Maths and that’s because they spend all their waking hours on school work and the whole family put education above everything else. I don’t see that happening or desirable here. More rounded individuals are considered preferable.

  12. Problems have solutions. The problem we’re facing isn’t, though, one of teachers’ability to present subject material, but rather one of engaging with the children. The question as I see it is, “How can we motivate pupils who have already been turned off Maths (and often many other standard subjects on the curriculum) by a process of undermining their self-confidence with criticism and punishment?” The key is to identify and encourage what they do well, and then offer support with what they need help understanding. There has to be a rigorous commitment to building self-esteem and self-confidence. Personal development at this level should form the foundation of teacher training and lie at the heart of our approach with our pupils. It works like magic – every time – with all pupils – no exceptions.

  13. in most circumstances the motivation for pupils to perform has to come from the person who feeds and clothes them……when a teenager is given every thing he/she desires for doing absolutely nothing why should they care? This is why it is sometimes impossible to motive a teenager..and when parents protest about the volume of homework their children receives there is little hope. The root cause has to be looked at not just having fab Chinese teachers.. These Chinese teachers will be hitting the same hurdles as us British teachers face!

  14. Former Conservative Schools Minister Nick Gibb would do well to remember that “Our schools too often emphasise problem-solving in real-life situations over pure mathematics…” because teachers have been continually dictated to by successive governments and their curriculums to do so.

    I wonder how many teachers over the past 20 years have failed OSTED or been ousted for being old-fashioned for teaching the ‘Chinese way”?

    And I would just LOVE to see a televised, live filming of one of the Chinese teachers doing their best in a real inner-city challenging school, say, year 8 or 9, 30 kids, no differentiation! I’d relish the giving out of challenging homework and one can only imagine the amount of ‘beeps’ over the sound track when he/she tries to give effective feedback! Front seat, Liz Truss??

  15. First of all I do not think that England’s Maths teachers will be too pleased at being told they are not very capable. It seems to me that this Government seems to be determined to undermine and demotivate the already troubled teaching profession in this country. My second point is that when these no doubt lovely intelligent Chinese teachers get here they will have a hard task on their hands. They may run away screaming or fail miserably. I am quite happy to sit and watch and hope they do get our rather feral child population under control long enough to teach them this very unpopular but important subject.

  16. Let’s go back to the primary school – and to ability in Maths teaching by those teachers. My experience is that many primary teachers are not confident or able Maths teachers. ” I can tell you why Chinese students do so well at Maths. They have twice as many Maths lessons as any other subject.” (Carol) And aren’t they in very large classes of children of very similar ability?
    Commonly, in my local authority there are mixed age group classes. This is easy to handle in other subjects. But in Maths, a single year group can have a very wide ability spread. This is wider still with 2 year groups in every class.
    Would a Chinese teacher be able to teach double or triple digit multiplication to able Year 4s in the same class as Year 3s struggling with single digit multiplication by, say 3? Doubling the time spent on Maths teaching cannot help in these circumstances.
    Because these classes are difficult for many primary teachers to succeed in, classes are often split with groups of children being put in the hands of teaching assistants. Maths strugglers need the most able teachers not those who have not succeeded in their own learning.

  17. I couldn’t agree with you more Anna! If UK teachers employed Chinese teaching methods they would be failed in an OFSTED inspection. If there are problems in the British education system it is not the fault of the teachers who do an incredible job under very difficult circumstances, it is the systematic dumbing down of the syllabus by government. This has actually been admitted by the Labour shadow education secretary. Also the behaviour of pupils in lessons and the fact that respect for teachers is at an all-time low. Please see the comment above by Mr Palmer. Nevertheless, having taught in both South Africa and China my experience is that students in the UK are not the also-rans that the government and the media seem to think they are. They are creative and capable of thinking for themselves. Once motivated, they take responsibility for their learning. They like to problem-solve. These are admirable characteristics, nurtured by UK teaching methods which I think are excellent. What is needed is more discipline in the classroom with the power to remove unruly pupils who are preventing others from learning. Strong leadership from Heads who regularly patrol their schools and deal with misbehaviour as it happens. Who deal with the bad behaviour of pupils, not blame the teacher. Parents who support schools and encourage their children at home. A culture that is supportive of teachers and emphasises the importance of education. Teachers seem to be the whipping boy for all the ills of society and it simply is not fair.

  18. Chinese teachers are here for a HUGE Cultural Shock.
    If English teachers aren’t succeeding, the Chinese will not either.
    Key to success is ethic of work, determination and discipline of work. Unfortunately authorities are missing the point: Teaching is important but that is only part of the story, the will to learn and a competitive environment are just as important if not more.

    Retired Maths teacher.

  19. Not a bad idea. So many English and Americans and Australians go to teach English in Chinese schools, so it’s a good sort of cultural exchange to give a developing country that’s been behind for many years a chance to share their expertise. However, I don’t think it’s going to solve the problems highlighted in the comments above, or address the different situations in the U.K., such as a multicultural environment, inner-city schools, and different cultural values.

    I agree with some of the above comments that one of the main reasons pupils don’t do well today in Maths is that they just don’t see the relevance to their daily lives. People who want a career in science, engineering, or architecture can see the relevance, but not others. I give plenty of examples from my own life. Since graduating from high school in 1996, I have not made use of any of the Maths taught to me above arithmetic and fractions for any practical purpose. All the other subjects I studied – English, Science, History, Art, Literature, Social Studies, Geography – have been extremely useful to me.

    Part of this may have to do with textbooks rather than teachers, and with the specific ways high school Maths was taught in Georgia in the late 1980s and early 1990s – with Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry all compartmentalised, and with a heavy focus on abstract numbers rather than practical, real-life situations. However, the Maths textbooks I see used by my students here in Asia (in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Thailand, but many of the books were created in Singapore) are much better. They treat Maths as one integrated subject, have many pictures, and many word problems and practical applications. I don’t know what the current Maths textbooks are like in the UK, if they are like the ones I grew up with in Georgia or the current Asian ones – but I think that Maths is one subject where the textbook and teaching materials can make a real difference, as much or more as the teacher.

    I worked with a Malaysian Chinese international school teacher on her Cambridge diploma, and she used some creative methods for Maths teaching that engaged students with modern technology, such as Youtube videos, PowerPoint presentations, and step-by-step group problem solving activities. These kinds of activities – and yes, they can be done by Asians just as well as English or Americans! – are the way to teach Maths to the average student, not the traditional methods of rote memorisation and drilling (that are associated with China, but used to be used in American and British schools also up to the 1960s!).

    I also think – although it’s not a politically correct opinion – that there are inherited genetic differences in subject ability among various races that may affect the situation. Asians tend to be good in Maths and Science and technology, Europeans and Americans to be good in management and organising and psychology, Latinos at music and literature and visual arts and function organising, Africans at sports and music and physical prowess, and some races like Thais and Europeans in the visual arts. Actually, all these skills and talents are equally important to our survival as a human race and to our society, but it’s our misfortune that most societies tend to value some skills more than others. Which is why it’s really not good to emphasise this in today’s world. Here in Thailand, I notice how good the Thais are at visual arts, technology, music, and spiritual matters, while less good at other things.

    I also agree that cultural values in the U.K. are different than those in China, and that there’s less emphasis on simply “getting ahead.” This is because in the U.K., society has developed to the point where people recognise the value of a well-rounded education and things like arts, history, and environment, and not just getting a job and mere survival. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn some things from Chinese teachers – after all, China is one of the most ancient civilisations and has a great culture going back thousands of years!

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