The answer should be None. But schools minister Elizabeth Truss and her delegation are off to Shanghai to discover why Shanghai pupils perform so well in maths. But they could have done that without clocking up air miles.
The National College for School Leadership
investigated Maths and Science teaching in Shanghai in 2013. And a report on Shanghai’s education system by the US National Center on Education and the Economy was summarised here
A Department for Education (DfE) press release
announcing Truss’s jaunt said the World Economic Forum placed maths and science education at 50th place out of 148 countries. Shock horror!
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013
(p 463) confirms the DfE statement: UK was 50/148 for the quality of maths and science education as assessed by respondents to a survey. UK scored 4.4. The same score was given to Norway, USA, Macedonia and, wait for it, China. These countries all scored above the mean (4). Just giving rankings is deceptive unless accompanied by a score.
To recap: according to the World Economic Forum, the UK ranks alongside China for the quality of its maths and science education.
England’s performance in maths has “stagnated” according to TIMSS 2011, said the DfE. But it failed to mention this consistent performance put English 10 year-olds in the global top ten
where they were in 2007. The performance of 14 year-olds fell to the TIMSS average but this was on a par with Finland, top performer in PISA tests.
To recap: according to TIMSS 2011, English 10 year-olds are in the top ten for maths performance and English 14 year-olds occupy the same position as Finland.
Still plugging the negative, the DfE said 30% of employers were dissatisfied with school leavers’ numeracy. That means 70% were satisfied
. And the proportion of employers providing remedial lessons in numeracy fell from 18% in 2012 to 14% in 2013.
The DfE was right, however, about poor performance
of English and Northern Irish 16-24 year-olds in the OECD’s Adult Skills Survey 2013. But the DfE ignored warnings by the OECD and the NFER that readers should exercise caution when using the survey’s findings because of possible bias associated with a poor response rate. But caution can be thrown to the wind when results can be used to underpin Government reforms.
It appears, however, someone at the DfE has read the National College’s report. The DfE claims it’s already implemented some of its suggested changes. These “include creating additional teacher development time…” But Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to scrap teachers’ conditions of service rules which regulate non-contact time.
Perhaps he’s had a change of heart and will follow Shanghai’s lead. The National College wrote:
“Class contact time is dramatically lower, at between 25%-30%, than in English schools where 80%-90% is the norm.” The trade-off is larger class sizes.
This low class contact time allows teachers to mark work immediately, give instant feedback, plan the next lesson, and evaluate and improve their performance.
To recap: class contact time for Shanghai teachers is no more than 30%.
The DfE lists the extra demands it has introduced in its “rigorous new curriculum”. But this introduces abstract concepts too soon. Shanghai teachers stress repetition and practise to encourage deep learning. LSN contributor Rebecca Hanson has called for the suspension of the 2014 maths curriculum
One overlooked reason why Chinese children perform better in maths than Western children is suggested by Eastaway and Askew
. The Chinese numerical system is more logical. It doesn’t use names like thirteen or thirty-six but “one-ten three” and “three-ten six”. This makes adding 16+13 much easier: one-ten six + one-ten three = two-ten nine. Children who learn Chinese counting have greater understanding of how numbers work which gives them a head start.