Firstly, teaching for mastery is not a new thing! I was at a very informative talk from Mark McCourt at ResearhEd where he posed the question: “Have teachers only just started to want students to understand everything?” By claiming the Shanghai method does this are we saying teachers currently in the UK are happy with students not understanding topics? Whether you agree or disagree that the Shanghai method is better for mastery learning is not my biggest bugbear with the whole debate but much rather this:
- In Shanghai pupils have daily maths lessons in short 40 - 45 minute bursts rather than 3 hourly sessions. Parents expect homework to be set every lesson and the total amount of hours spent working on mathematics can be around 15 hours a week compared with the 3-4 hours a week UK students currently receive.
- Teachers’ workload is completely different. In the UK teachers are entitled to 2.5 hours a week non-contact time to plan lessons and mark books. This is significantly different to the 3 hours a day the teachers in Shanghai get. To look at the Shanghai model being implemented in the UK system makes the £41m spent on texts books and training seem irrelevant. Lessons 1 and 2 specialist maths teachers would teach three 40 minute lessons compared to the two 1 hour classes in the UK.After break the UK based teacher would then go on to teach their third lesson of the day whilst their Shanghai equivalents would have the hour to mark the homework. (I will come on to the marking later!). After lunch, and most likely a detention or club the teacher based in the UK would then go to teach a further two lessons. In Shanghai the teachers have this time to plan and develop lessons together and review the lessons they have previously taught so their practice can continually develop. All of a sudden giving half the Primary schools a textbook to help is like saying to a child with a broken leg – “here, have a plaster” although I’m not sure we could offer a plaster now without parental consent!
- Marking. To do this properly and provide valuable feedback takes time. In maths it is often viewed that we just “tick and flick” but this is not the case as detailed feedback is required. In Shanghai they can tick and flick because if a student has failed to get a certain score they have to attend an after school session that day to correct it.
- Culture. Can you imagine the uproar form parents in the UK if they get a phone call to say their child was in an after school session that evening as they didn’t get the required score in their homework? In Shanghai teachers have parent contacts on their phone for all of their classes and contact home is just one click away. Parents expect their child to have daily homework and behave impeccably in lessons. If this isn’t the case sanctions and extra classes are accepted without question. When I taught at an international school this work ethic and expectation was very clear. Now I am not saying parents in the UK don’t care, because they do. We just have different expectations for children and how they should spend their younger years. Going back to the broken leg analogy, to try and change the culture of a country by spending £41m on textbooks is like amputating a broken leg without any consultation because you know it won’t hurt if you don’t have it.
- Collaboration. All schools in shanghai teach from the same textbook. This model is consistent across all the schools over a number of years. In the last 6 years in the UK I have taught 4 different schemes of work to GCSE classes as the battle of linear v modular exams took place, a change of exam boards and now a change of exam specification. This textbook wouldn’t last the required two years here if the government keep changing the system for political/ personal gains. Why can’t they put their own career ladder to one side and focus on the children’s futures.
- Child wellbeing. This is my last but most crucial point. As great as the Shanghai model is for getting maths result does it take into account the mental health of the students? I am not going to generalise and claim this particular method is the cause for the higher stress and suicide rates as I would be as blunt as Nicky Morgan is for suggesting this method will cure the perceived problem in UK mathematics teaching. However, with reports saying more and more primary school children are suffering stress and other mental illnesses due to the new testing system forced upon them by this government surely this has to be looked at.
England would win the football world cup if we could defend like Germany, pass like Spain and attack like the Brazilians but getting to that point is surely about changing habits and culture slowly through a well thought out plan. Unfortunately buying textbooks for half the primary schools or bringing Sam Allardyce will just not work by itself!
I welcome comments to try and change my opinion but surely funding on teacher retention and reducing workload would be more beneficial?
Thank you – I feel much better now!