Update I’ve had a very disappointing interaction with the NCETM on twitter, who have now twice refused to answer publicly on the role of selection in China (or other Asian systems) and the implications for (apparently) taking a method that’s used for the broad middle of ability only, and imposing it on the full ability range.
The reason they gave (in a longish private message) is that they do not have time to answer these things on Twitter but would do so by email. This is not really logical – I have already suggested that they could write a response up and link to it. The important thing would be for it to be a public explanation of their views, since so far I can’t seem to find discussion of the curriculum of ‘supernormal’ schools (or similar selection in other systems) in the public explanations they give for their approach.
They pointed me to this blog post; but it does not answer any of the questions that I asked.
The NCETM sound very confident in their approach, so it should not be complicated to answer these questions:
- What contact has the NCETM had with Chinese teachers from ‘supernormal’ schools?
- Where in the NCETM materials do they explain their decision to ignore the selective aspect of Asian education systems (if they made this decision)?
- Why do they think it is beneficial to the most able children in England to do the standard curriculum when in the systems on which mastery is based, this does not seem to happen?
I’m out of my depth here! It needs maths specialists to look at the issues and ask more detailed questions about content, depth, selection, etc.
I know the NCETM has the best of motives. I just wish they would explain themselves rather than repeating the same material and not mentioning selection in the source countries.
NB I’m not suggesting we should be adopting similar selection here. Simply that in those countries the standard curriculum seems not to encompass all abilities as the NCETM says, so if that’s their intention here I think they should be able to justify it.
The maths mastery approach has spread quickly through English primary schools, in large part because of the support of the NCETM and the Maths Hubs.
The NCETM suggests that all children, even the most able, will benefit from an approach which contains ‘increased depth’ rather than acceleration of content. They say that they base their view on knowledge of the East Asian countries where mastery approaches have been successful.
I’m slightly confused, though, by what they actually mean. Many schools seem to have taken it to mean that children should be given no content outside that specified for the year they are in; but the NCETM is clear (as is the NC) that schools can take content from other NC years if they think this is appropriate. The NCETM materials quote the NC on this point, and then say:
Schools should identify when they will teach the programmes of study and set out their school curriculum for mathematics on a year-by-year basis. (Oxford Owl/OUP/NCETM/MAths Hubs ‘Teaching for Mastery – Questions, tasks and activities to support assessment’)
In principle this would mean that you could include Year 6 content in a Year 1 class if you thought it would be beneficial. You could, in fact, structure your year-by-year curriculum to include all levels of work in all years, to be accessed at need.
So there’s a contradiction somewhere – either in the logic of what the NCETM is saying, or in how schools are implementing it.
I’m unsure as to how greater ‘depth’ can be achieved without adding extra content, past a certain level, and would value comments below giving examples of depth without new content which would be more challenging than the NCETM’s greater depth examples.
A useful example might be: How do you give a very mathematically able Y3 child conceptual challenge at the level of the Y5 content (which is the level at which said child begins to need to think about the answer) while remaining within Y3 material? Is that what is meant (because remaining within eg Y3 material seems to be what many schools are doing)?
But the main thing that I think needs sorting out is that I have found no mention in NCETM materials of the selective aspects of the various Asian systems. In particular, though there is much talk of China and the really interesting and important project of bringing Chinese teachers here so we can learn from them, there is no discussion (that I have found) of the role of ‘supernormal’ as a category in Chinese education.
It’s a bit of a startling word, but it’s basically what we’d know as ‘giftedness’. So it seems you can have ‘supernormal’ children; but there are also ‘supernormal’ schools which cater for the most able/high attaining children. I think there are also additional evening schools, but I’m only just learning about it all, so I’m not sure.
Anyway, it’s clear that ‘supernormal’ is an important category, and it would seem to be the case that these children are not taught the same curriculum in the same way as the majority (why would you select them, if you were to do that?!). This is from an article comparing Chinese and Honk Kong teachers of gifted children:
Education for the Gifted in Beijing
There are several schools for the gifted in Beijing that are
known as supernormal schools. These schools identify highly
intellectual students at an early age and educate them in self-
contained classes or schools. In supernormal schools, four
components are deemed essential to bring forth the talent
and potential of gifted students: the integration of excep-
tional intelligence (which refers to the interconnectedness of
different abilities and behavior), the provision of accelerated
learning experiences, the application of appropriate learning
styles, and the encouragement of a positive attitude. (‘Competencies and Characteristics for Teaching Gifted Students: A Comparative Study of Beijing and Hong Kong Teachers’, Hoi Yan Cheung & Sammy King Fai Hui, Gifted Child Quarterly
55(2) pp 140-1)
It is clear from this that ‘gifted’ is a recognized category, and that children identified as belonging to this category are educated differently. Most importantly, this difference includes acceleration of content.
I have asked the NCETM, via Twitter, to give their view on the role of the ‘supernormal’ category in mastery teaching for the most able (in this country as well as in China). They have, I think, spent a long time researching the Chinese system prior to their work driving the mastery approach in England, so I hope that they will be able to give an overview of how it fits within the approach as they have structured it.
Update: Tim Dracup sent me a link to his writings about gifted ed in Asia
and looking at those it seems even odder that this aspect of the Asian systems is not discussed in English mastery approaches. I hope the NCETM will be able to clarify!