An international benchmark for maths and science has shown that pupils across England have improved results in the last four years. The findings come at a time when there is increasing emphasis on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and maths – and preparing students for job roles in these areas. While the improvements have been well received the top performing countries worldwide is dominated by those in East Asia.
The Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) is conducted every four years and more than 600,000 students across the world took part in the last assessment. Across both primary and secondary pupils, England ranked a respectable 10th for maths, with this year’s pupils hitting a 20-year high in terms of the score given, and placed 15th for science. While the improvements are a positive some have signalled disappointment that the gains haven’t been more pronounced given the changes in school structure, the curriculum and teacher training since the last assessment.
However, it has been noted that changes in the education system can take time to filter through in terms of results, while other argue that changes can even have a detrimental effect. England’s Schools Standard Minister Nick Gibb noted that future TIMSS surveys are expected to reflect even further progress as a more demanding primary maths curriculum began being taught in 2014.
Gibb added, “[The] results show our pupils are more engaged and confident in both subjects compared with some of the top performing countries. Mastering these skills will ensure there is no limit to a pupil’s ambition and will ensure our future workforce has the skills to drive the future productivity and economy for this country.”
Since 2010 the government has taken steps to boost STEM subject and understanding across the country, including encouraging and funding school programmes and events in a bid to inspire pupil uptake.
Top achievers in the international rankings were East Asian countries, with Singapore coming out top in every measure. South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong also scored well across the survey. The enviable scores of these countries raises some interesting questions about the way the subjects are taught. Typically, East Asian countries favour the ‘old-school’ methods, such as reciting times tables, while European countries, including the UK, have tended to move away from this style. Instead, in the UK there has been an increasing focus on number sense – helping pupils to understand numbers and techniques in a way that means they can then be applied to solving different problems.
What do you think about teaching methods in maths and science, is there a better method to help pupils understand the subjects?