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Posted on 31 January 2018

Education

School children struggle to achieve maths potential

When it comes to maths, many primary school children in the UK are struggling to achieve their potential, according to new research.

The recent report from the Education Policy Institute and UCL’s Institute of Education shows that England has one of the biggest gaps between high and low performing students in the developed world. Only New Zealand and Turkey have a bigger disparity. So while England’s top performing maths pupils achieve a very high standard, the bottom performers lag far behind – with this gap well established before pupils reach secondary school.
It’s not surprising then that “mastery” has become something of a buzzword in the UK in the last five years. It’s a word with lots of different meanings, but it’s usually linked to how mathematics is taught in East Asia – particularly in Shanghai and Singapore. Both of which are very successful in international league tables such as PISA.
In Shanghai and Singapore the mastery method involves whole class interactive teaching as the main approach. The idea is that by using teacher questions, step by step progression, diagrams and carefully designed practice exercises, all pupils progress together. And daily intervention is also used to support those pupils who need extra tuition.
Interest in adopting East Asian approaches to maths have recently been made an educational priority by the UK government. In the recent budget, the chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans to invest £27m in the expansion of the Teaching for Mastery maths programme to a further 3,000 schools.
The outcome is often lots of experimentation and variation in schools – and ultimately, lots of different versions of mastery. But overall, the types of changes schools make after the exchange are ones mathematics educators have advocated for a long time and are backed by research.