You can count on the Asian approach to maths

When it comes to the most effective method of teaching primary school children maths, there are currently a variety of ways to do this. Maths is ultimately about problem-solving and one of the big issues facing teachers is how to make learning about it fun and engaging while ensuring it’s both relevant and most importantly, that the fundamentals are correctly understood from the beginning.

Another issue commonly faced by teachers is that children learn at completely different rates. Depending how quickly they grasp and develop the concepts, this can lead to some children feeling that they just don’t get maths or that it’s boring or just too hard.

It’s all in the approach


In high performing education systems in places such as Singapore, Japan and China, they use a teaching technique referred to as the ‘mastery approach’. This approach aims to address these issues by reinforcing the expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in maths. In addition to this, pupils are taught together as a whole class, supported by the use of high quality textbooks instead of worksheets. In situations where there are higher achievers, they have the opportunity to develop their understanding rather than simply rushing ahead of classmates.


Pupils are also encouraged to physically represent mathematical concepts, so objects and pictures are used to demonstrate and visualise abstract ideas, alongside numbers and symbols.  A mathematical concept or skill is said to have been ‘mastered’ when a pupil can represent it in multiple ways, can combine different concepts to solve complex problems and can apply that knowledge to real-life situations.

An example of this would be calculating a sum in your head, for example 4 + 1 and then using the Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract (CPA) approach:

  • Concrete (handling real objects) – this could be physically holding 4 cubes or 4 pennies and adding one cube or penny
  • Pictorial (seeing pictures of four baskets of apples) – if you add one basket, how many baskets are there now?
  • Abstract – using drawings, diagrams and symbols to represent the five items

By systematically varying the method used to solve a problem, children learn to make quicker mental connections.

Core learning together

This approach is something we believe can work well for children, alongside the core resources TeeJay Maths provides. Our textbooks are designed to cover entire year groups throughout primary school, giving pupils the chance to learn together as a class, and both review and revise topics to maximise their understanding.

The mastery approach supports this further by giving children the opportunity to put their learnings into practice with concrete and pictorial representations.

More UK schools are set to benefit from the Asian maths method

The good news for the UK is that, last year the government pledged £41m of funding to help over 8,000 primary schools in England to adopt this method by 2020. So far, over 140 teachers from primary schools in England have been trained by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics to help schools implement the approach. Mathematics Mastery, a professional development programme for teachers, currently works with 367 schools and over 3,200 teachers throughout the UK.

With this approach becoming more widely used in schools throughout the UK, the future looks good for even more children becoming engaged, challenged and inspired by learning maths.

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