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School report: stories from the education front line

Teaching maths the Asian way, why video games aren’t so bad, and why are there so few male primary teachers?

10 September 2016

9:00 AM

10 September 2016

9:00 AM

Teaching maths the Asian way

English primary schools have received funding of £41 million to embrace the ‘Asian style’ of teaching maths. The method, used in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong — all of which are at the top of Pisa’s study into the school performance of 15-year-olds — is more visual than the ‘normal’ British style of maths teaching, and focuses on children being taught in a mixed-ability group, rather than being divided into streams. The funding, announced in July, will allow 700 teachers to be trained in the Asian method, in addition to the 140 who have already completed their training.

At the moment, the UK sits in 26th position out of 34 developed countries when it comes to mathematical performance, and the hope is that the new Asian style might help to solve this problem. The system speeds up the teaching process, as well as introducing a physical aspect to the teaching; students are helped to visualise mathematical concepts, with the use of objects and pictures to demonstrate abstract ideas, as well as numbers and symbols. Schools minister Nick Gibb visited Shanghai earlier in the year to see the teaching method in practice, and believes this new approach will help create a ‘maths renaissance’ across the country. ‘I am confident that the steps we are taking now will ensure young people are properly prepared for further study and the 21st-century workplace, and that the too-often heard phrase “can’t do maths” is consigned to the past,’ he commented.

Why video games might not be such a bad thing

Do you feel like you spend all holiday trying to convince your children to step away from the PlayStation and get some fresh air or pick up a book? Maybe you can relax. New research has shown that children who play video games tend to perform better in school, thanks to the puzzle-solving skills needed to progress to the next level. Professor Alberto Posso, from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, says that students who play games almost every day ‘score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science’ — most likely because games enable them to apply and sharpen the maths, reading and science taught at school. Not all technology has the same effect, however. The same study showed that pupils who frequently use social media sites such as Facebook were more likely to fall behind in maths, science and reading. Other similar studies have found that video games have no effect on children’s school performance.

Do we need iPads in schools?

But do we need quite so much technology in schools? Yes, things such as learning to code and good computer skills are vital — but what about every student having a tablet? Some state schools have been asking parents to stump up for iPads for their kids, saying they consider tablets of great importance but don’t have the funds to buy them themselves. Many parents understandably aren’t keen on the idea, with children’s charities criticising the schools for piling financial pressure on to parents. Do iPads actually help learning? Educational research organisation ResearchED believes that teachers are depending too much on technology, using it even when other more immediate teaching methods would enable pupils to learn equally well, or better.

We’re losing our teachers

British teachers are in high demand across the globe, particularly in international schools. In 2014, more British teachers left the country than gained a PGCE. There are plenty of reasons why British-trained teachers would want to work abroad: the chance to travel, competitive salaries, free accommodation, the chance to learn another language. Whatever the reason, the British education system has to deal with a ‘brain drain’, and Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, has raised the idea of a ‘golden handcuffs’ scheme to incentivise teachers to stay in the UK. It’s not going to be easy, though. In 2010, there were around 2.75 million students at international schools around the world; by last year, it was over 4 million. Around 40 per cent of those schools teach a British-inspired curriculum. The Department for Education is attempting to address the problem by investing more money in teacher recruitment, particularly via schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service. They have also launched a programme aimed at attracting more teachers from abroad — though this might not be seen as a positive sign by those keen to encourage British teachers to stay here in the UK.

Why are there so few male primary school teachers?

Only one in six primary school teachers is male, a new report has revealed — with 3,727 primary schools in England lacking any male teachers at all. On last year’s Teach First programme, only 28 per cent of those recruited were male — something they are trying to counteract by actively encouraging male students studying Stem subjects to consider applying for the programme.

Does it matter? Many people think so. With lots of children lacking a male role model at home, they argue that it’s important that male teachers are around to help fill the gap, and to try to create a ‘gender-balanced workforce’. After all, it’s not just arithmetic and spelling that children learn at school, but also social skills and attitudes to the world around them. A lack of men in schools could foster a confused worldview, it’s claimed.

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