Maths lessons from China: More demanding parents, everyone can do maths, teacher collaboration and specialist primary teachers

Elizabeth Truss and Rachel de Souza Elizabeth Truss and Rachel de Souza

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
7:00 AM

Norfolk parents need to put more pressure on schools over their child’s level of achievement, according to a leading Norfolk educationalist who returned from a fact-finding mission to China.

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Norfolk headteachers on whether Norfolk parents should demand more of their child’s school

Mark Farrar, principal of Reepham High, said: “I think for a child to succeed in school, parents must be involved in partnership with schools in helping the child.”

However, he added: “My children would go bonkers if I went through their school bags and looked at their books. I think it’s a different culture here, compared to China.”

For Jonathan Rice, headteacher of South Wootton Junior School, some parents are very engaged, while others are very hard to reach, and “parents should be demanding, but we also have to cater for the children whose parents won’t ask and won’t engage”.

He added: “One parent of a child at my school asked for a copy of the Level 6 maths paper his son had done at school to be sent home so he could have a go, under test conditions. The boy had got 17 out of 25 at school, dad got 12. But the motivating effect on the child was fantastic.”

He said the key was for school to be as clear as possible with parents about the school’s aims, and what skills and knowledge children should acquire.

The comments from Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust of Norfolk academies, sparked questions about whether Norfolk parents care enough about what happens to their children in school.

She said Chinese teachers told her parents were their biggest cause of stress because of the pressure they put them under, with homework going back every day, and parents checking their child’s grades.

She said: “I think our parents could be much more demanding, making sure that work is marked, and about standards. We have to work as a three - parents, teachers and children.”

Last year’s Pisa international league tables ranked Shanghai top for maths, and an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development analysis claimed children of manual workers in Shanghai out performed children of highly-paid professionals in England.

Elizabeth TrussElizabeth Truss

The findings sparked debate about maths education in the UK, and controversy about the reliability of Pisa tables which used tests that more than a quarter of Shanghai 15-year-olds did not sit.

However, Department for Education data on the 2013 GCSE results in England showed students who are ethnically Chinese significantly out-performed white British students. 71% of white British pupils gained at least a C in maths, compared to 93% of Chinese pupils; the figures for science were 72% and 90% respectively.

The delegation’s trip to China was not just big news in the UK, but made the headlines in China itself, and education minister and South West Norfolk MP Truss gave a press conference for Chinese journalists.

She said: “In terms of attitude and standards, they were particularly positive about maths. They believe it would help them get good jobs. When you ask what jobs they want, what they said was scientist, engineer or maths teacher.”

Elizabeth TrussElizabeth Truss

Dame Rachel said: “I asked them ‘what about low ability?’. They looked almost blank. They said it’s hard work that makes you good at mathematics, not some kind of natural ability. There are no more geniuses in China than Norfolk.

“If a child does not get the day’s lesson, they are picked up in the afternoon, and they are supported and if necessary receive extra tutoring. There’s not a sense that you can’t do it.”

She added: “The amount of collaboration between teachers is really impressive. In Shanghai everyone shares their lesson plans on a website and if you get yours chosen it’s a real kudos.”

Dame Rachel said she wanted to bring specialist maths and language teachers to the primary schools within the Inspiration Trust.

But the learning is not all one way, and Dame Rachel said there was a huge will among Chinese teachers to take part in teaching exchanges with British teachers, and to learn how to encourage problem solving and creative thinking among their pupils.

She said she wanted Norfolk to lead the way on a renaissance of maths teaching in the UK, and called for a national programme to bring the best maths teaching methods from the East over here.

Do Norfolk parents care enough about how their children’s schooling? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

9 comments

  • I look at the picture at the top of the article and I fear for the future of our children's education. Two desperate and wide-eyed quick-fix-seekers on a whistle-stop tour of the orient. Incidentally, I am really impressed at how Costessey Secondary was improved under Ms De Souza's leadership - but to suggest that the authoritarian Chinese-type approach to schoolchildren could be transplanted to the UK to fix things here is ridiculous.

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    gilded beams

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • It's simple, why make it complicated? The only way to raise and maintain standards in education is obvious! Parents should be demanding a lot of the teachers. But they should also demand a lot from their own children too, and support them. At the same time the teachers should demand a lot of the parents.

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    Patrick

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • Educationalist is really stretching it

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    No to tory boy

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • Well, Dame Rachel and Ms Truss - nearly all of us people who went to school in the 60s and 70s could have told you that this was how it was in British schools then, and if the education system hadn't been meddled with over the last 20 yrs or so, our schools would probably be producing pupils who could actually understand mathematics, like the Chinese. Did you really need to go all the way to China to find that out? (Presume you had a lovely holiday at the taxpayer's expense whilst you were there).

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    Shirley Scott

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • I'm not sure about how it was in the 60s but I can say from my experience in the 70s that it was not as tough as it is today. I was good at maths but was never really pushed in the way that today's children are. Is there room for improvement? Probably but the golden age is not what they say it was

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    JohnnyH

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • Shirley Scott has swallowed Gove's shiny bait hook line and sinker. When I was at a tiny primary school in Norfolk in the 50s60s we virtually taught ourselves-being presided over by at least one ex serviceman and another head who in retrospect was just marking time . It was only a term before the 11 plus with a good temporary head with a Norfolk background that saw me into grammar school. At 11 I had good English and general knowledge because we spent an awful lot of time reading. All teachers are now graduates, we may have lost a generation of able teachers but we have lost some lazy ones too. There are some good teachers in our schools now but some very poor management and the politicians stirring the pot have been incompetent meddlers for 20 years. These women know the tests are discredited, knows the pupils in Shanghai are reported to be from relatively affluent schools, know if they are honest that some Chinese schools use very aggressive methods and that some Chinese parents are not beyond physical punishment for failure. The might also acknowledge the research which links learning to read Chinese with enhanced memory skills and even research that finds the Chinese have higher average IQs than Europeans. Yes our schools have failings and academies and free schools are a cause rather than a solution.

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    Daisy Roots

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • Oh please spare me this utter publicity seeking drivel. Do they really need an expensive jolly to learn that Chinese parents demand the highest exam results, their children do 3 hrs of maths pd, their curriculum is devoid of anything creative, their child suicide rate is v high......need I go on. Norfolk CC could have told them this following their jolly 3 years ago had they bothered to ask.

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    Sportswagon

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • It seems that Ms Scott has swallowed Gove's misinformation campaign, Where is the proof that children on the whole do less well in maths than they did in the 60s? I went to a 25 pupil primary school where we more or less taught our selves while ex servicemen marked time as head teachers before moving on. Only a Norfolk born temporary head saved the day where 11 plus was concerned. I agree about the meddling, but suggest that the measurement of attainment has become a political tool rather than a guide to achievement . The test in question has been discredited, the Chinese sample it seems may have been carefully selected . And do we really want a Chinese style education for our children-big sticks, aggressive tuition, humiliation etc. Then there is the research which indicated that learning Chinese is an aid to memory and tackling maths. And other research which ranks the Chinese races as having higher IQs than Europeans. The last time Education ministers went abroad to look at education they went to the USA and came back with SATS. I am still waiting to hear a parent from De Souza's headship days commenting that her door was always open and she took on board parents' complaints.

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    Daisy Roots

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

  • I began my schooling in the mid fifties, and on my transfer to secondary school I was deemed to be “weak in mathematics”, however this “did not persist”. The reality was that I was, and am, hopeless at metal arithmetic, and could not remember how many Shekels there were in a Grote I still don’t! Thankfully we moved into decimal money and the metric system. On the wall in the secondary school maths class was a quote from Galileo; “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe” It is easy to be nostalgic about the “good old days”. For me a shrieking harridan who humiliated, or hit you, if you couldn’t remember how many square yards there were in an acre taught me nothing. I put primary school behind me and managed GCE “O” level later followed by pass in a second level Pure Maths course with the OU. It could be that others who were put off at an early age, and did not make the breakthrough, infected their children with a fear of mathematics, and did not encourage them, “It’s no good asking me I was never any good at maths.” We need to inspire parents to inspire the young, not necessarily to harass the teachers. Going on oriental adventures at the taxpayer’s expense will not do this. Mathematics is actually very interesting!

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    The Fortean

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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