Britain jumps up international Maths rankings following Chinese-style teaching

Camilla Turner
The UK came 18th, up from 27th three years ago, in the Pisa league table - © Tomasz Trojanowski / Alamy

Britain has jumped up international rankings for Maths following Government efforts to import Chinese-style teaching into the classroom.

The UK came 18th, up from 27th three years ago, in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) league table.

The Pisa tests, which are administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD ), were taken by 79 countries last year.

The assessment is carried out every three years and involves more than half a million 15-yearolds across the globe taking two-hour tests.

Last year the UK scored an average of 502 points in mathematics, up from 492 in 2015.

Within the UK, the average score for maths among English pupils (504) was “significantly higher” than scores for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

Experts have said that ministers’ attempts to emulate Chinese teaching methods are likely to have driven up the UK’s test results.  Countries in the Far East - including China, Singapore and Hong Kong – have long come at the top of the league tables for maths.

Professor Valsa Koshy, an expert in maths education at Brunel University, said: “Importing maths teaching from Far Eastern countries means there has been an emphasis on children needing to master the basic facts and traditional skills such as times tables. This used to be laughed at as too old fashioned.”

In 2014, the DfE set up an exchange programme between English and Shanghai schools, so that maths teachers could learn about Chinese teaching methods.

The programme was followed two years later by a £41 million pound project to train thousands of primary schools to adopt the “Shanghai-style”, also known as the “maths mastery approach”.

Maths mastery involves children being taught as a whole class, building depth of understanding of the structure of maths, and is supported by the use of high-quality textbooks. A series of maths “hubs” were set up around the country to train teachers in the new methods.

Ben Durbin, head of international at the National Foundation for Educational Research which administered the Pisa tests in the UK, said it was “encouraging” to see that boost in score for Maths was driven by improvements among boys and lower achieving students.

The UK also ranked higher for reading and science than it did three years ago, coming fourteenth place in the international rankings for both in the most recent Pisa test.

As well as coming below countries in the Far East, the UK also ranked below other European countries such as Estonia, Slovenia and Poland for all three subjects.

Teenagers who took the test were also asked about a range of other issues such as their wellbeing and happiness.

According to the rankings, 53 per cent of British students said they felt satisfied with their lives, which is well below the OECD average of 67 per cent.

School leaders welcomed the improvements in maths but voiced concern about the results for children’s wellbeing.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is clear that many young people feel under great pressure in a society in which the stakes often seem very high to them in terms of achieving their goals.

“We must do more to understand the complex factors which affect wellbeing and ensure schools and colleges are sufficiently funded to be able to provide appropriate pastoral support.”