England must look to China to improve how maths is taught in its schools and end “15 years of stagnation”, a Government education minister has said.
Liz Truss has visited Shanghai to observe teaching methods there, after a study by international think-tank the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found the children were three years ahead of their UK counterparts.
She added that teachers from England who have already implemented the methods they learnt in China have seen their pupils improve.
Researchers from the OECD considered the maths results and backgrounds of over half a million 15-year-olds who took part in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study.
They found that in the UK, the children of parents with a “professional” job - such as doctor or lawyer - scored 525.94 points on average in the Pisa maths test, while those with parents in “elementary” occupations - such as cleaners and catering assistants - achieved 460.61 on average.
But children from “elementary” backgrounds in Shanghai scored an average 568.9 points and 533.58 in Singapore.
Deputy director for education and skills at the OECD Andreas Schleicher, said the “simple message” of the findings was: “If school systems want all of their students to succeed in school, they should give the children of factory workers and cleaners the same education opportunities as the children of doctors and lawyers enjoy.”
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However, an American academic and education expert, Tom Loveless said that Shanghai schools were not comparable to those in English and US schools because large numbers of children are excluded from high school education in the Chinese city.
He said that the children of migrant works, who make up almost half of Shanghai’s population and fill many of the “elementary” occupations, were effectively excluded from the city’s high schools by a system which forced many of them to return to their home villages to be educated.
Speaking from Shanghai, Ms Truss told the BBC's Today programme: “The children that are at the schools in Shanghai are doing three years better than children at schools in England.
"That's the reality of the situation. I've seen it for myself."
She added that England should learn and apply “good practice”.
“We have stagnated in terms of our maths performance for the last 15 years, while other countries like Germany and Poland have been learning from the East,” she said.
Ms Truss added: “We've had 50 maths teachers out in Shanghai implementing those techniques in English schools and we've already seen improvements in teaching grades as a result of it.
Asked about Mr Loveless's criticisms of the OECD study, Ms Truss said: ”It seems that the Shanghai teaching methodology uses resources much more effectively and also focuses on the core arithmetic that children need to have from an early age. So we see very high levels of verbalisation of maths, very high levels of specialist maths teaching in primary school as well as secondary school.
"It is really a matter for the OECD exactly which people have been in comparator tests, but the OECD has verified that Shanghai is three years ahead of the UK and Singapore is two years ahead."
She added that encouragement and a positive attitude towards maths, was a contributing factor to China’s success.
”Any problems are being followed up and they have an approach where they have both larger and smaller class sizes, so there are small groups to make sure all children have mastered the concepts but also large groups to make sure that good teaching resources are being used effectively.“
Additional reporting by PA