East Asian maths teaching approaches could prove highly beneficial to achievement in the United Kingdom, according to recent research.

Teaching Personnel reports that an Oxford University study has been the first to show that the techniques known as ‘mastery’ can be very effective. The mastery approach is in use in countries with high performance in mathematics, such as Singapore. It provides children with a very detailed understanding of a concept before moving on. The method builds on theories like the work of Jerome Bruner, an Oxford University developmental psychologist whose worked focused on how the brain assimilates new ideas.

In the university’s most recent study, Year 1 pupils were taught using a programme incorporating the Inspire Maths textbook material, which is used many Singaporean primary schools. Over two terms, the pupils were shown to make far more progress than those students using the material for a shorter period, and teachers reported a boost in the children’s motivation and engagement with maths.

Study leader James Hall, a lecturer at the University of Exeter, said:

“Overall, we found positive evidence that Inspire Maths benefitted children’s maths achievement and supported teachers’ professional development.

“This boost to progress was surprising, because pupils had only been in a classroom setting for a short period and because it often takes time to embed new teaching approaches.”

The mastery method has already received approval in the UK, with schools minister Nick Gibb announcing earlier this year that £41 million will be spent over four years to support mastery in mathematics through a network of mastery specialist teachers.

However, a number of obstacles still need to be overcome.  A formal nationwide policy on using the method has not yet taken place. Advocates still need to bring school management teams and teachers on board, as well as adapting the method to cover the large number of topics included in the National Curriculum.