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Visit to China!

As you are aware, Justin Dodd, one of our Maths SLEs, visited China in January. It was an amazing experience for him, so here is his full report!

Visit to China!

Recent news has highlighted the PISA tests and how the UK has fallen in Mathematics whilst Shanghai continues to be at the top of the rankings. In January, as an SLE, I was fortunate enough to be selected for Phase 2 of a NCTL research trip to Shanghai, China. I travelled with 49 other mathematics SLEs from across the country and across different phases.

Our week long stay started with a presentation from Prof Zhang who, as part of the Shanghai Normal University, leads the way in analysing PISA and proposing educational reform. What was most striking is how he uses PISA as an analysis tool rather than a goal to be at the top of the rankings. Prof Zhang showed us how Shanghai also did not perform well in terms of creativity and what changes he is proposing to develop those ‘softer’ skills in Shanghai students.

The remaining part of the week was taken up with school visits to a variety of schools in both Shanghai and Ningbo, a city 3 hours south of Shanghai.

What we observed was very interesting and partly matched our preconceptions but also gave us a great deal of thought and a number of ideas to bring back to try in our schools. A full report of the visit can be found at but below is a short summary of what we discovered:

  • Basic number work is drilled hard in the early years and is very practical. They expand on a topic not by increasing the complexity/level but by varying the context.
  • There is a 10 year education plan which provides stability and schemes of work are clear and coherent from age 6yrs to 18yrs.
  • Specialist Mathematics teachers teach all classes from age 6yrs.
  • Teacher contact time is less. A typical secondary teacher will teach two classes (of the same year group) of 40 students, each once per day and usually in the morning. Marking and interventions can be done the same day. No-one is left behind.
  • Observed teaching (at secondary phase) was quite didactic with few engaging activities. We appear to be better teachers in terms of assessment for learning and enthusing students.
  • Teachers plan in subject groups so they are always sharing good practice.
  • There is a clear cultural work ethic. Students work at pace throughout the whole lesson and will work significantly longer at home; often eight hours per day is not unusual.
  • There is clear support from home. Shanghai schools are reducing workload because families are placing a great deal of pressure on the students. Pressure and workload was a common theme when talking with students.

As a result of our research, the SLEs have brought back a variety of strategies to try to implement in the UK. These include:

  • Working with the Primary phase to plan Year 5, 6 and 7 work.
  • Trialling a limited number of staff teaching a year group (secondary) or a Mathematics specialist teaching all years (primary) and ensuring staff plan together.
  • Using carefully chosen multiple choice hinge questions for classwork and homework.
  • Increased use of flipped learning to introduce new topics and increase the pace of learning in class giving adequate time for consolidation.

It was an amazing trip and experience. To see teaching and learning in another culture, the individuals behind the headlines is something that I will remember for a long time. The food was great and Shanghai surprisingly westernised - much of the city did not exist 20 years ago. In some respects I am envious of the Communist system because if they want a new school or a 10 year education plan they get it! There were, however, clearly many other social issues that were hidden from us.

The development of Mathematics in England is a long term issue. We need to get to the stage where innumeracy is as socially unacceptable as illiteracy. Too often we still hear that ‘It is OK. I was not very good at maths either.’

However the focus is on Mathematics and with Liz Truss’ visit to Shanghai recently, there is a clear government push to improve the learning and teaching of Mathematics in England.

Return Mar 4, 2014