Elizabeth Truss hopes visit to Shanghai will add up to better maths performance by English students

11:39 18 February 2014

Elizabeth Truss MP. Picture: Ian Burt

Elizabeth Truss MP. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2012

Norfolk MP and education minister Elizabeth Truss will lead a delegation of experts to Shanghai to learn how the city topped the 2012 international league tables for maths.

Dame Rachel de Souza Photo: Bill SmithDame Rachel de Souza Photo: Bill Smith

The group will also include Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Norfolk academy school group the Inspiration Trust.

Shanghai’s 15-year-olds topped the 2012 international Pisa tables for maths, while England was ranked in 26th place.

The group will visit three schools at primary and secondary level and teacher training institutes in Shanghai next week, allowing them to study successful methods and potentially adopt them in schools here.

Ms Truss said: “Shanghai is the top-performing part of the world for maths – their children are streets ahead. Shanghai and Singapore have teaching practices and a positive philosophy that make the difference. They have a belief that diligence redeems lack of ability.

Examples of questions children in Shanghai are asked

For five year-olds:

Xinhua library has received new books at these prices: Animal world 32RMB, storybook 65RMB, colouring book 18RMB, science book 29RMB. Xiao Pang and Xiao Ding bought their favourite books: Xiao Pang spent 32RMB and 29RMB, while Xiao Ding spent 65RMB and 18RMB.

- Which books have they bought?

- Calculate how much money they need to buy the books.

- Who spent the most? How much did s/he spend?

- Which two books would you buy?

- How much would that cost?

For eight-year-olds

- Xiao Ding Ding buys 33RMB worth of sports clothes with 100RMB. He then spends 61RMB on trainers. The store gives him a free pair of socks worth 5RMB. How much does Xiao Ding Ding have left?

- 32 different football teams entered the 2006 World Cup. Every team had 23 football players. How many players in total were entered in the World Cup?

- Newbright clothing store launched a ‘Reduce energy’ activity. During one month they saved 37 watts. How many watts could they save in one year?

“Our new curriculum has borrowed from theirs because we know it works – early learning of key arithmetic, and a focus on times tables and long division, for instance.

“This visit represents a real opportunity for us to see at first hand the teaching methods that have enabled their young people to achieve so well in maths.

“They also have a can-do attitude to maths, which contrasts with the long-term anti-maths culture that exists here.

“The reality is that unless we change our philosophy, and get better at maths, we will suffer economic decline.

“At the moment our performance in maths is weakening our skills base and threatening our productivity and growth. I am determined to change this.”

An analysis by the OECD will show this week that the children of manual workers, including of cleaners, in Shanghai and Singapore do better in maths than the children of highly paid professionals in the UK.


  • Maths at GCSE is largely numeracy and arithmetic. It is a completely different ball game. Theoretical mathematics bears little resemblance to the useful ability to add up and keep accounting books which is largely what the population needs. I do wish these two would actually focus on this and stop trying to boss children and their parents around. Why don't they try and get all children to study music A level, a phenomenally difficult subject, or Chinese, which would enable them to go over to Shanghai and study maths there! My daughter is studying music A level which is way more difficult than maths because she needs the subject. The chance of her needing maths is somewhere below zero.

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    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Barely 15% separates the top 25 countries in the unreliable Pisa survey - sampling discrepancies can mean wild shifts in the table. What's more the China survey is based on Shanghai alone, which excludes many students from its tests because they have migrated there from the countryside. What's with the cult of maths? Didn't the mathematical expertise in the world of banking lead us into the worst recession for a long time?

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    Sunday, February 23, 2014

  • I would add too that Norfolk CC undertook a similar trip a few years ago and already has some answers so perhaps Liz Truss and Dame DeSouza could take a taxi trip to Norwich to find out. But of course they won't since they can't stand the lot in power now so we pick up the bill for this trip which has already been undertaken, again at our expense....DISGRACEFUL.

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    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

  • The answer is very simple......UK parents should stop hating maths; we could teach maths all day everyday as in China, Singapore, Shanghai......; parents could support schools and see education as being most important......etc. Our cultures, aspirations etc are very different and we really don't need expensive trips to Shanghai to prove this. Why Dam DeSouza too......she only represents 7 schs.......all to do with a cosy elite who haven't a clue about education and will doubtless return spouting their usual ill-informed rubbish at our expense.

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    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

  • Why should we believe that these two ladies, riding on a wave of moralistic change, are able to persuade our children that math is cool and necessarry? This another old fashioned perk with lots of chat afterwards. The best thing these two could do for the future of those children entrusted to their care is to stop wasting this energy jetting round the globe, reduce their CO2 household and inspire children by paying good math teachers some decent wages.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

  • I expect some GCSE students would struggle on those questions.

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    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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