Primary schools to receive £41m for Shanghai ‘mastery’ maths

Over the next four years, half of all primary schools in England will receive a share of £41 million to support the introduction of whole-class maths teaching based on the south Asian ‘mastery’ model.

The government expects an initial 700 teachers will be trained in the model, also known as ‘Shanghai maths’, and will then percolate their knowledge to others across the system.

Funding will also be provided for maths mastery textbooks. Details have not been released on which publishers will benefit, however Harper Collins have developed an extensive Shanghai maths offering, promoted by schools minister Nick Gibb in a speech last year.

The approach involves whole-class teaching, taking pupils of all abilities through calculations in minute detail, and has already been piloted through a teacher exchange programme between England and Shanghai, via schools in the maths hub network. So far, 140 teachers have been trained in the mastery approach.

The schools minister announced the plan in a speech at the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) conference stating that maths was enjoying a “renaissance” in England and would be given “positive momentum with thousands more young people having access to specialist teachers and quality textbooks”.

An evaluation of the Shanghai exchange scheme, published today by Sheffield Hallam University, found some changes in teaching practices and a perception by teachers that pupils were more engaged in maths learning, but all evidence is described as “anecdotal” or having limited reliability due to other curriculum changes occurring at the same time.

Teachers raised a number of barriers to the implementation of the mastery model, including a lack of funding to cover textbooks and teacher training – both of which are addressed by the £41m released by the government today.

However, concerns around the feasibility of planning time and having lessons led by specialist maths teachers, both of which feature in the Shanghai school system, remain unaddressed.

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  1. It appears money is available to throw at Minister’s pet schemes. Promotion for Collins’ ‘Shanghai Maths’ said it was designed for whole class teaching. But the EEF found mastery learning appeared to be ‘particularly effective’ when pupils worked in groups or teams using ‘collaborative learning’ or ‘peer tutoring’. The workbooks are designed to last one year, according to Collins. But EEF found mastery appeared to be ‘more effective when used as an occasional or additional teaching strategy’ because impact fell for longer periods of over 12 weeks.

  2. The idea that Asian countries dominate maths comes from the PISA ratings. There are various problems with these ratings:

    1. They compare cities versus countries. For example the ratings compare Shanghai vs the UK. All of the top rated countries are really cities. In Shanghai they pay teachers very well and there is a huge focus on education but this is not true across all of China.

    2. Asian countries tend to set their syllabus to maximise PISA ratings. Can you really compare when some countries are gaming the system?

    3. Asian countries tend to focus on rote learning and I am not convinced that this is very useful in the real problem-solving world.

    I have covered these points in a blog post.


  3. So true Janet,

    How about the ‘promotion’ of active learning resources as in numeracy and synthetic phonic boards. The active learning impact includes ‘collaborative learning’ and ‘peer tutoring’ that have proved to be ‘particularly effective’ and the learning impact continues and does not decrease after a 12 week period? ”Textbooks’ are not the only way to enthuse young learners. I am however a great fan of the mastery of knowledge and skills.

  4. Michelle Grummett

    How do you find out which schools will be given funding. It states half of all primary schools. What about the other half? How do you qualify?