PISA and the Power of Three

The 2018 PISA results see England moving up the PISA leader board for mathematics. After several years of intensive focus and investment from the DfE, particularly in Primary maths, this is welcome news. However, the trends underlying the headline results remind us that improving student outcomes in mathematics is a long game. Singapore continue to reap the benefits of their long-term strategy to invest in teachers and students of maths, with the 2018 results maintaining Singapore’s impressive performance from previous PISAs.

Sustaining focus on mastery

As in Singapore, transforming a whole school’s approach to maths takes time and effort – and we can’t take our eye off the ball. Schools concerned about the new OFSTED inspection framework will  have recently invested time thinking about maths and teaching for mastery, and may feel they need to move  their attention elsewhere.

However, as Singapore’s experience illustrates, and OFSTED’s new inspection framework highlights, teaching to mastery requires sustained focus across the whole school – not just on the intent behind the curriculum (such as teaching to mastery) but also on how it is implemented in the classroom.

Effective implementation involves a strategic approach to curriculum, with carefully designed, coherent planning across the whole school. All teachers, including NQTS, should feel supported to develop their subject knowledge and pedagogy so that they can teach in small steps and ensure foundations are secure before moving on, identifying through skilled questioning where students need more support or challenge and intervening immediately.

The role of published maths programmes in Singapore’s success

A key principle of Singapore’s early vision to boost maths success in schools was to ensure teachers and students had the support they needed to implement the aims of their curriculum, particularly at Primary. The support included carefully developed, research-led and evidence-based published programmes, encompassing planning, resources (including textbooks) and CPD, written and delivered by experts in their field. Working with such a programme helped Primary schools in Singapore to deliver on curriculum intent, and freed up teacher time to focus on effective implementation of their maths curriculum across the school, with all teachers and pupils. It is likely that the support provided to Primary schools by high-quality publishing programmes contributed significantly to Singapore’s ongoing success story in maths.

The ‘power of three’

Recent research, notably from Tim Oates at Cambridge Assessment and John Blake at the Policy Exchange, highlights the importance of valuing this support. It cites publishers and their expertise in developing high quality resources to support teachers/schools as a key component of jurisdictions performing highly in international reviews like PISA. At  OUP we’re committed to developing high quality resources and continuing professional development through the ‘power of three’: drawing on the respective strengths and expertise of experienced publishers, educational experts and practicing teachers to review and revise resources as they are developed and make sure our published programmes have impact in the classroom. Further support is provided by OUP’s Educational Consultants who are committed to providing a fully rounded service that gives schools the advice and tools to choose the right programme for their particular needs.

Here in the UK, as in Singapore, high-quality maths programmes offer real support to schools to help them achieve their long-term aims. Publishers like OUP invest time and resources in developing coherently-planned, evidence-based Primary maths programmes with integrated CPD like Numicon, MathsBeat, and Inspire Maths (the UK edition of the authentic programme used in almost 100% of Singapore state Primary schools, My Pals are Here). At OUP we continue to evaluate the impact of these programmes in schools post-publication to inform ongoing development, working with independent research teams. Drawing on the ‘power of three’ within such high-quality programmes can help schools deliver on the intent, and focus on the implementation, of their maths curriculum, as in Singapore, to improve maths outcomes for all for the long term.


OECD, PISA 2018 results  

Oates, T. (2014) Why Textbooks Count. Cambridge Assessment

Blake, J. (2018), Completing the Revolution. Policy Exchange

Hall, J. et al (2015) Evaluation of the Impact and Implementation of Inspire Maths in Year 1 Classrooms in England. University of Oxford