`Maths will get you everywhere'
Andrew Truby, headteacher of St Thomas of Canterbury primary school in Sheffield, was one of 71 teachers from schools in England's 32 "maths hubs" to visit Shanghai in the first wave of the UK government's Shanghai Teacher Exchange Programme.
"Over in Shanghai they have a saying that `maths will get you everywhere', therefore significant value is placed on being successful," says Mr Truby, who visited the 2,000-pupil Shanghai Peijia Bilingual School for six- to 18-year-olds.
Specialist teachers are used from the start of primary, Mr Truby adds, and can also deliver catch-up lessons if pupils have not understood a new concept in class. He is considering trialling a similar approach at his school for a month.
By the age of 15, students in Shanghai are an estimated two to three years ahead of their English peers in maths, according to Pisa 2012. But the study also highlights differences in culture between the Far East and the West. For example, 70 per cent of students in Shanghai attend after-school maths classes, compared with 40 per cent in the UK.
"I think that people expect to see the Chinese children sitting in rows, rote learning. And in reality, they do often sit in rows. However, in every lesson I saw highly engaged children, eager to learn and thoroughly enjoying being at school," Mr Truby says.
But the largest difference Mr Truby encountered concerned lesson observations. "It is not uncommon for 100 teachers and educational experts to observe a teacher delivering a model lesson," he says. Special lessonobservation rooms accommodate visitors and there are also two-way mirrors, he adds.
Liam Colclough, Mr Truby's deputy headteacher and specialist leader for the South Yorkshire maths hub, who also visited Shanghai, says that teachers in the Chinese city believe all pupils can do well in the subject.
"Due to their faith and trust in the curriculum and teaching methodology, every maths teacher you talk to truly believes that every single child, regardless of background, will succeed at mathematics, rather than thinking about which ones won't succeed," he says.
"The mentality in Shanghai is that, whoever you are and wherever you come from, if you work hard, you can go to the best universities." Helen Ward