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Ministers to fly in Chinese maths teachers to boost standards in England's schools

Maths teachers are to be flown over from China to give masterclasses to their peers in England, the education minister Elizabeth Truss announced today.

Up to 60 English-speaking maths teachers from China will be arriving in the autumn term for a month to work with a number of leading maths schools. 

The decision comes less than a month after Ms Truss returned from a "fact finding" mission to Shanghai where she examined maths teaching to find out the secret behind the province's success in the recent Pisa league tables.

The Chinese city topped the world rankings in maths, while the UK came 26th.  

Under the plans unveiled by the minister, 30 schools, called maths hubs, will be set up as centres of excellence, which will deliver training and support to other schools in their area.  

The scheme will also see two leading maths teachers from each of the 30 hubs visit China for at least a month to learn about their teaching approaches.

Ms Truss said: “Delivering the best schools is a key part to our long term plan so I am delighted we are going to bring the best in maths teaching to England. This will mean our children will learn the key skills that will help them succeed in the future and help our economy become more secure.”

The initiative was given the backing of Andreas Schleicher, an official with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the man behind Pisa, who said the policy could be "transformational". 

“We know from Pisa that similar math content is taught very differently in England and in Shanghai, with the use of ‘word problems’ dominant in England while teachers in Shanghai emphasise deep conceptual understanding," Mr Schleicher said. 

Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust of academies, accompanied Truss on her visit. She said maths teaching in Shanghai was "truly impressive".

"From kindergarten to 19 years old, pupils are taught by specialist mathematics teachers ... Teacher collaboration and a relentless focus on high-quality planning is at the core of Shanghai success," she added.

But the NUT is not convinced that the exchange programme will make any real difference.

“The UK’s performance is similar to that of Denmark, France, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway,” Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said. “It is ridiculous to suggest that teachers brought in from China will have any more knowledge or expertise than teachers from other countries or indeed our own.

“On each Pisa release, politicians rush to use the results to put teachers and children under pressure and to suggest immediate, urgent reviews and reforms. Yet successful countries have system stability and policies which are understood – that means they have planned reforms which are taking place over an extended period of time, rather than constant piecemeal change and review.”

Meanwhile, research published today revealed poor maths skills among UK adults was costing the economy around £20 billion every year.

According to maths charity National Numeracy, approximately 17 million adults had just a primary school level of maths, which was leaving a significant blackhole in the country's coffers.  

By bringing each of those people up to just a lower secondary level would generate around £20bn a year.

In a bid to boost standards the charity has launched National Numeracy Challenge Online, challenging the public to test their own maths skills.

This week on TES Connect, it is TES Maths Week. Find out what's been going on so far and what's coming up for the rest of the week at

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