Asian maths teaching – more schools need to give it a try, says expert

New research has found that introducing a Singaporean ‘mastery’ teaching approach in English schools leads to a relatively small, but welcome, improvement in children’s mathematics skills and offers a potential return on investment, after one year.

The research evidence shows that introducing East Asian teaching methods into a western schooling system influences children’s maths performance. The study also suggests that even a small enhancement of maths skills at age 10 yields long-term economic benefits for individuals and the economy.

The Education Endowment Foundation study, led by UCL Institute of Education and the University of Cambridge, evaluated the impact of ‘Maths Mastery’ (MM) – a Singaporean-inspired teaching programme – after it was implemented in a selection of England’s schools for one academic year. The research involved more than 10,000 pupils in Year 1 (5-6 years) and Year 7 (11-12 years) in 90 primary schools and 50 secondary schools.

The researchers looked at how a small improvement in age 10 maths skills influences lifetime earnings and has potential economic benefits.

The impact of higher maths scores at age 10 on salary at ages 26, 30, 34 and 38 was estimated using data from the British Cohort Study, which follows the lives of more than 17,000 people born in a single week of 1970.

By using information from the 1970 study, researchers were able to predict that an additional month of progress in maths at age 10 increases average wages by around £100 to £200 per year.

The study’s authors then conducted a cost-benefit assessment and found that the relatively low cost of running the teaching programme is likely to mean a high return on investment, when potential future earnings are taken into account.

Comment from David Reynolds, Professor of Educational Effectiveness at the University of Southampton and designed the National Numeracy Strategy for England under the last Labour Government:

“This is a really important study. It suggests that Asian methods can be successfully transplanted to the UK and that a combination of refusing to tolerate failure and high quality teacher planning is effective in Maths. But the next step must be to try all the components of the Asian method together to see the possible effects, in bigger samples of schools.”

Note: The research paper “The causal effect of East Asian ‘mastery’ teaching methods on English children’s mathematics skills,” by John Jerrim and Anna Vignoles can be found here.


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