Singapore-style maths mastery methods boost pupils' progress, study says

Children who are taught using this whole-class method do better in the subject, research shows

Helen Ward

Helen Ward

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Children taught maths using Asian-style mastery methods do “significantly better” than their peers, a new study has found.

The independent research from Exeter and Oxford universities is the first study to demonstrate that a mastery textbook and teachers' professional development programme can benefit children.

The method involves children being taught concepts in small steps, beginning with the use of hands-on objects and drawings to help them understand. The whole class is taught together and children are expected to learn a concept in depth before moving on.

The latest research comes as the method has been increasingly taking off in schools. In July, the government announced that £41 million would be spent on supporting the approach in 8,000 primary schools.

Researchers used a randomised controlled trial that followed 550 pupils aged five and six for one year. They found that pupils taught using the Inspire Maths programme from Oxford University Press for two terms from September 2015 made significantly more progress than those who took normal lessons for one term and then used the mastery technique after January 2016.

'Inspirational' maths

“Overall, we found positive evidence that Inspire Maths benefitted children’s maths achievement and supported teachers’ professional development,” James Hall, lead author of the study and lecturer at the University of Exeter, said.

Inspire Maths is based on the My Pals Are Here! textbooks used in Singapore.

The interest in the method was prompted by the success of Shanghai and Singapore in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment international rankings, which show how 15-year-olds compare in maths. Shanghai came top of the table, Singapore was second and the UK was ranked in 26th place.

Previous research found that the Mathematics Mastery programme, also based on a teaching method from Singapore and adopted by the Ark academy chain, also improves children’s maths skills.

But there has been concern that Shanghai’s success in maths is not purely down to the mastery technique. An official evaluation of exchange trips between maths teachers in China and England pointed out that maths teachers in Shanghai are specialists who teach two lessons a day and spend more time preparing lessons than teaching.

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