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Asian-style maths mastery teaching 'can be effective for UK students'

09/11/2016 Joanna

An advanced approach to teaching mathematics that is commonly used in East Asia has been shown to offer significant potential benefits for UK students.

Independent research conducted by the Oxford University Department of Education has been recognised as the first academic study to show how this teaching method, known as mastery, can be effective.

The mastery approach is used in high-performing countries and regions such as Singapore and Shanghai, and involves providing children with a deep understanding of a concept before moving on. It builds on theories such as those developed at Oxford University in the 1970s by developmental psychologist Jerome Bruner on how the brain assimilates new ideas.

In this study, Year 1 pupils were taught using a programme centred on Inspire Maths a mastery textbook and professional development programme based on the My Pals are Here! books used in the majority of Singaporean primary schools.

Pupils taught using this approach for two terms were shown to have made significantly more progress than students using it for a shorter period, with teachers reporting that it boosted children's motivation and engagement, while the approach itself was flexible enough to be used creatively.

Study leader James Hall, a lecturer at the University of Exeter, said: "Overall, we found positive evidence that Inspire Maths benefitted children's maths achievement and supported teachers' professional development.

"This boost to progress was surprising, because pupils had only been in a classroom setting for a short period and because it often takes time to embed new teaching approaches."

The mastery method is already gathering traction in the UK, with schools minister Nick Gibb announcing earlier this year that £41 million will be spent over four years to support mastery in mathematics through a network of mastery specialist teachers.

However, a number of obstacles still need to be overcome, including bringing school management teams and teachers on board, as well as adapting the method to cover the large number of topics included in the National Curriculum.

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