Science and mathematics education for 2030: vision or dream?

Michael J Reiss

After three years of work and nine commissioned reports, the Royal Society has published its vision for science and mathematics education. It may not push Luis Suarez or Andy Coulson off the front pages but this is a most impressive document that deserves to have a major and long-lasting impact on UK science and mathematics education policy.

The committee that produced the report features a list of intellectual and society heavyweights – if you don’t have a knighthood, a dameship or a Nobel Prize or you aren’t a Fellow of the Royal Society, that may explain why you weren’t invited to sit on it. Behind these titles sits a huge amount of expertise and very considerable passion to improve education.

The Vision aims to raise the general level of mathematical and scientific knowledge and confidence in the population by focusing on changes to how science and mathematics are taught to 5- to 18-year-olds. Some of its recommendations are already taking place, at least to some extent – for instance, that teachers should be trained to engage fully with digital technologies – but others are more contentious.

For example, the report calls for a move away from the current A level system to a Baccalaureate. Such a move would benefit not only science and mathematics but other subjects too. However, I won’t hold my breath to see if it happens – and it will certainly require a change of government. People have been calling for A levels to be replaced by a system with less early specialism for longer than I can remember.

The report also calls for the establishment of new, independent, expert bodies to provide stability in curriculum and assessment and allow teachers space to innovate in their teaching. Following the bonfire of the quangos after the last General Election, the need for such bodies has become clearer than ever. But who is to pay for them? This is not a report overburdened by economic analysis (there isn’t any). Perhaps the Royal Society and other funders need to step in and establish something akin to the successful Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which manages to be independent yet shapes national policy and practice.

Science and mathematics education are in a fortunate position in the UK, compared to many other subjects. Industry clamours for more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates and technicians and the UK is an acknowledged world leader in STEM research. A decade ago, work by David Sainsbury, Alan Wilson, John Holman, Celia Hoyles and others helped turn around a long-running decline in the numbers of 16-year-olds choosing A levels in mathematics and the physical sciences. Let’s hope this report takes those successes to the next level.

London’s 300 languages are a boon for all the capital’s children

Catherine Wallace

The Chief Inspector of Schools, Michael Wilshaw, has hit the headlines again, this time with the suggestion that schools should be able to fine parents if they don’t read to their children. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea: it’s unenforceable, and would tend to penalise families who are already struggling financially, for example. But also, it fails to recognise the many ways that families practice literacy in their homes and communities.

I’ve been studying migrant children in London schools whose first language is not English, and what comes through in these pupils’ narratives is the various ways that literacy is embedded in their home lives. This can involve reading with siblings, teaching English to grandparents or newly-arrived relatives, writing stories that are never revealed to the teacher, and, of course, religious lessons at Mosques or Gurdwaras.

In today’s target-oriented classrooms, there is little space to acknowledge culturally variable ways of learning, and little awareness that socialisation into literacy may not follow the prescribed path of bedtime story reading or parent and child sitting together with a book. And while migrant children may not possess the same sort of cultural capital enjoyed by their middle class peers, they have another, valuable, type of cultural capital that is much less well-recognised.

The ability to think and speak in more than one language and to operate across several cultures allows them to see the world from a perspective that has the potential to enrich learning for them and their classmates. Yet, in schools, as in society, having English as an additional language is sometimes seen as a deficit.

And while English is the goal, since parents and pupils want this, this need not mean an English only classroom.

I studied two groups of children: new arrivals and settled migrants (who make up the majority of second-language learners in London’s classrooms). Two children from the first group were Zara – a refugee from Somalia – and Mohan – who came from Afghanistan and lived for some years in France. Although their English is less proficient than the “advanced bilingual learners” from the second group, they come with a valuable set of resources:

  • Their mother tongues are well established, so that they can more readily serve as a resource. Mohan’s home is multilingual – four languages are spoken and he himself actively uses three in daily life: French to his siblings, English at school, and Pashto to his parents.
  • Some of the pupils have a strong formal educational background and may feel confident in particular subject areas, such as maths.
  • Most are literate in their first language – and first language proficiency in literacy is widely accepted as a strong predictor for successful acquisition of good literacy in English.

Despite these apparent advantages, the pupils’ languages other than English receive scant acknowledgement at school, although Mohan has the advantage that French is his dominant language. There is a clear hierarchy of languages in our schools and society, and Western European languages such as French and German remain at the top.

More than 300 languages are spoken in London’s schools, offering a wealth of knowledge, new perspectives and cultural riches to all of London’s children. Surely this cumulative bounty has contributed to the success of London’s schools. This week’s report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the IOE suggests that London’s multi-ethnic mix could be one reason why the city’s deprived children get better academic results than those in other parts of the country. The benefits brought by bilingualism must be a contributing factor.

London as a global city is ideally placed to spearhead an era of new opportunities for cultural and linguistic exchange in our schools. And yet, while the statistics tell an encouraging story of the positive impact of migration and diversity, the picture is still mixed. Overall, the group of young people I studied is doing well, but it is in many ways a success story against the odds.

Professor Catherine Wallace’s lecture on EAL pupils in London Schools, being given on 26 June, is available from IOE Press

TALIS: A complex and realistic picture of teachers and teaching around the world

Chris Husbands 

What do we really know about teaching and teachers in England’s schools? What is teaching in England really like by comparison with other jurisdictions? Too often, discussions about teacher effectiveness, teacher appraisal, professional development and job satisfaction appear to be based on a sample of about one: massive over-generalisation from the specific instance.

So the publication of the OECD TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) 2013 data for England is important. This is not the first TALIS – that was in 2008 – but the first to include England. TALIS covers lower secondary teachers in 34 countries, and the OECD reports its findings over 440 pages of dense text and charts. The English report, itself 200 pages long, was written by an IOE team led by John Micklewright and provides the most extensive data we have on teachers and teaching. The sample is still not enormous – 154 schools and 2,496 lower secondary teachers – but the response rate was very high (75% compared to just 17% in the DFE Teachers’ Workload Diary) and, importantly, this is the first survey to cover both state and independent schools.

Micklewright and his team deliberately do not come to an overall conclusion on what TALIS tells us about the state of secondary teaching in England. They try to tease out what the data say about different issues, framed as a set of questions – but it is for the reader to draw conclusions.

The result is fascinating: a treasure trove of data and graphs, which allow us to make informed comparisons across the OECD. Politicians and the press always ransack reports like this for the simple answer which tells us that “if only” we were more like [fill in name of organization or country] then everything would be different. But the TALIS report is more complex and realistic. There are differences between countries, but they evade easy generalization.

Take teacher workload: TALIS confirms that teachers in England work hard: a working week of 46 hours, one of the highest in TALIS and 9 hours more than the average. In only three of the sub-sample of high performing jurisdictions is the figure higher: Alberta (48 hours), Singapore (48 hours) and Japan (54 hours). But teaching time in England, at 20 hours, is close to the international average. This gap between working hours and teaching is a puzzle because English schools have significantly more teaching assistants and administrative staff than across the OECD. But it may be a result of high levels of autonomy enjoyed by English schools; examination of the TALIS data bears this out, suggesting that the difference is because English teachers spend slightly more time on each aspect of their work: planning, marking, and administration.

Or take classroom management. Across all OECD countries, a quarter of teachers report losing a third or more of time to classroom disruption. But in most respects England is at or better than the TALIS average. 21% of teachers in England say they have to wait for students to quieten down at the start of lessons, but this is below the median for all countries (27%) and below all high performing jurisdictions except Japan. Teachers in independent schools report better behavior than teachers in maintained schools or academies, but of course independent schools teach a more socially selective population.

Micklewright’s team look carefully at variations between schools, and conclude that classroom climate is correlated with the make-up of the school intake, and, more, of individual classes. And, there is evidence that disciplinary environment improves in smaller classes – of course, smaller classes are preponderantly found in independent schools. Even so, two thirds of teachers report a positive classroom climate. It’s in these classes that teachers are likely to use a variety of approaches including group work, extended investigation and information technologies. Teachers are more likely to teach like this if they participate in professional development involving individual and collaborative research, visits to other schools or teacher networks. Or consider findings on continuing professional development. Overall, there is exceptionally high engagement with CPD in England: 92% report some CPD in the last twelve months, but the number of hours spent on training is relatively low: high participation, low volume. And for all the rhetoric that continuing professional development is not simply about ‘going on a course’, courses and workshops account for the vast majority of CPD; just 45% of English teachers reported CPD involving ‘working with a group of colleagues’.

There are some insights into CPD quality, which tell us that CPD on the most challenging aspects of teaching is the least effective. Across TALIS, just 13% reported that training on teaching in multi-cultural or multi-lingual settings had an impact on their teaching; the figure was 8% in England. Figures on SEN training are similar.

But there are reasons to be positive about what CPD can do: across the OECD as a whole 66% of teachers thought that subject-focused CPD had an impact, and 50% thought that  CPD focused on pedagogy had an impact. The figures varied between countries. Both were lower in England, and higher in the nine highest performing jurisdictions – but before that becomes a policy line, we note that 73% of teachers in the eight lowest performing jurisdictions also reported a positive impact from CPD in their subject! Teachers in schools with higher levels of deprivation were more positive about the impact of CPD. Taken as whole, the OECD claim a correlation between regular collaborative professional learning activities and teachers feeling more confident about their capabilities.

TALIS suggests that England has a near universal system of teacher appraisal. Compared to the OECD as a whole, Micklewright’s team characterizes England as a “high feedback country”: 99% of teachers report receiving feedback. But schools are not making the most of it. Only about half of teachers (and this is a consistent figure across the OECD) felt that feedback enhanced efficacy.

It’s on self-efficacy – teachers’ beliefs about their ability to influence learning – that the English report concludes. There are variations between teachers’ sense of their effectiveness. But variation within schools is much greater than that between schools. Teams and departments matter. There is no difference between independent and state-funded schools, nor between affluent and deprived schools. Instead, the IOE team conclude that self-efficacy is highest when teachers report strong professional relationships, but they conclude that causality is unclear: it may be that teachers with high self-efficacy build good relationships, or, by working in teams with good relationships teachers become more confident.

It’s this puzzle, like so many others, which the report for England is so good at illuminating. It offers immense detail, but never at the expense of the underlying key questions. It challenges practice and policy on the basis of rigorous analysis, which is what really good research should do. It is balanced between strengths and weaknesses and clear-headed about international comparisons. It will be reduced, and perhaps traduced, in press headlines, but deserves serious research and policy attention on how we can best shape the teaching profession.

TAs: only a research-policy-practice trialogue will lead to evidence-based policy-making

Rob Webster

The economists are at it again!

This time last year, the Reform think tank outlined cost-saving measures that, it claimed, could be made without damaging pupils’ education. Chief among them was cutting the number of teaching assistants (TAs) in schools.

The rationale was based on findings from our Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project, which found that children who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support – even after controlling for factors like prior attainment and level of special educational need (SEN).

Thankfully, the recommendation to axe TAs got short shrift from the DfE. Not so fortunate the elementary school system in North Carolina, USA.

Last month, the state Senate proposed a $21.2 billion budget plan, $470 million of which will pay for an average 11% pay rise for teachers. Half the funds for this, however, will come from cutting the equivalent of 7,400 TA jobs – all but eliminating TAs in second and third grades (7-9 years).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this decision – expected to be ratified by lawmakers by 30 June – has sparked petitions and protests. A local educationalist likened the situation to paying for a liver transplant by selling a kidney!

The context for the controversy is on-going attempts by politicians to improve educational standards in North Carolina. Echoing the conclusions of the Reform report, State Senate leader Phil Berger said achieving this is about using research evidence to prioritise resources: ‘to target our dollars to those things that are shown to improve student growth’. For Berger, this means making teaching financially more appealing in a state where attracting and retaining high quality teachers has been a perennial problem.

Reliance on the inconclusive research evidence on the effect of teacher pay on educational standards to inform policy is worrying. So to hear too that, with an eerie sense of déjà-vu, it turns out a partial reading of the DISS project findings has also been used to justify the proposals, should raise questions about politicians’ use of empirical research and their proclaimed fondness for evidence-based policy.

It cannot be avoided that high amounts of TA support has unintended consequences for pupils, especially for those with SEN, but our research is very clear about the reasons. It is decisions made by school leaders and teachers about – not by – TAs, in terms of their deployment and preparation that best explain the DISS results. This vital message seems to have bypassed state legislators.

As my colleagues and I never tire pointing out, the DISS results do not suggest that getting rid of TAs will improve outcomes, if all other factors remain equal; if anything, it will create more problems.

Teachers in North Carolina may be about to see their salaries increase and – as Berger and others in the Senate acknowledge – their jobs transform, but with no additional teachers coming into the system, plans to reduce class sizes dropped, no proposals to ensure teachers are not overworked or receive training to help them work with children with special needs, they will earn every single dollar.

For all the talk of basing policy decisions on research evidence, the situation in North Carolina is another example of the kind of poorly planned and expensive experiments with pupils’ learning and adults’ careers and well-being that are becoming worryingly commonplace in public education systems the world over.

These revelations from across the Atlantic should be troubling for the research community too. Just recently Louise Stoll and Chris Brown wrote on this blog about collaborative models of knowledge exchange in education: efforts to translate and transfer research findings into practical tools and strategies for practitioners.

A team of us at the IOE are currently developing our own model of knowledge mobilisation based on the work we’ve undertaken with schools on our Maximising the Impact of TAs programme.

Our experience has been that these two-way efforts between schools and universities can be extremely fruitful and mutually beneficial to the processes of teaching and research. Yet the essential need for policymakers to be involved in the process of converting knowledge into policy and practice is writ large over the events in North Carolina.

Selective readings and misrepresentations of research evidence by detached decision-makers of findings from hard won (often taxpayer-funded) empirical research, which is dependent on co-operation with and contributions from busy practitioners working in high-pressure environments, poses a threat to the trust between researchers and educators that underpins collaborative research and development – not to mention the relationship that each group has with the public.

Only recently has the UK Government clarified its somewhat ‘hands-off’ position on TAs. Whilst there is obvious appeal in giving school leaders autonomy to make their own staffing decisions, given the vast sums of public money involved in employing TAs and the high stakes nature of education generally, it seems a rather relaxed approach.

Our emerging model of knowledge mobilisation recognises the essential need for policymakers’ participation in turning the research-practice dialogue, into a research-policy-practice trialogue. Their willingness to engage would be a clear commitment to their much-vaunted faith in evidence-informed policy and practice.

 

Rob Webster is a research associate at the Institute of Education and freelance consultant/trainer. He is grateful to Andy Curliss of The News & Observer, North Carolina, for bringing this story to his attention.

 

British values: democracy and respect must also apply to the way curriculum is built

Chris Husbands

Denis Healey tells the story. On the eve of South Yemen’s independence, its last British governor hosted a party attended by Healey, who was then minister for defence. Over drinks, as the flag was about to be lowered, the governor looked at Healey and said, “You know, Minister, I believe that in the long view of history, the British Empire will be remembered only for two things.” What, Healey wondered, were these great gifts to the world? And the governor replied, “the game of association football. And the expression ‘eff off’.”

Stories like this are a reminder, perhaps, that ‘British values’ are more complex and problematic than they appear when grabbed by politicians in a crisis. On Monday afternoon, following the OFSTED report into Birmingham schools, the Secretary of State for Education argued that all schools should be required to teach the fundamental British values of “democracy, mutual respect and tolerance”.

Just fourteen hours later, by Tuesday morning, when the Prime Minister added his voice, the list had become a little longer: “freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions”. And this is what happens: lists become longer, pet topics are added, enthusiasms are produced. In her autobiography, Mrs Thatcher famously recalled her horror that her desire in 1988 for a simple core curriculum became, by 1994, such a complex national curriculum that it needed an inquiry led by Lord Dearing to tame it.

The relationship between the school curriculum and civic understanding – which is what is at issue here – has been fraught from the very beginnings of the National Curriculum. A subject-based curriculum has many strengths, but there are aspects which fall through the cracks. The 1988 National Curriculum addressed this through a series of ‘cross-curricular themes’ (though they were taken more seriously by curriculum developers than they ever were in schools). What is everyone’s responsibility is no-one’s real responsibility. In 1989, the then Speaker of the House of Commons, Bernard Weatherill, established a Speaker’s Commission on Citizenship. In 1993, OFSTED took a different tack, seeking to define social, moral and spiritual understanding, but covering much of the same ground. In 1997 the new Labour Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, asked his fomer university politics tutor, Bernard Crick – a lifelong advocate of political education – to report on the case for education for citizenship. The current Prime Minister and Michael Gove would do well to re-read Crick’s report.

Crick set out three aims for education for citizenship, including social and moral responsibility, requiring morally responsible behaviour both in and beyond the classroom, both towards those in authority and towards each other, community involvement, including learning through community involvement and service to the community, and political literacy, including pupils learning about and how to make themselves effective in public life through knowledge, skills and values.

Crick argued that whilst these were cross-curricular concerns, the knowledge base for citizenship required a dedicated allocation of curricular time, and Citizenship was introduced as a statutory element of the curriculum in 2002. It was abolished by the Coalition in 2010 under the banner of offering schools curriculum freedom.

In his own Newsnight interview on 9 June, the Chief Inspector of Schools, pushed by Jeremy Paxman, said that on the curriculum he personally leaned towards curriculum prescription. It is almost certain that we will now have a new round of consultation, which will throw up many of the definitional challenges involved in translating ‘British values’ into curriculum guidance, in which the list of elements of British values will grow and shrink over time and end up not a million miles away from the Crick Report.

In the most recent edition of the Curriculum Journal, my IOE colleague Michael Young, himself a key advocate of the importance of knowledge-led curricula, offers some astringent and prescient arguments on what a curriculum can, and cannot do: it can educate young people, but cannot, ultimately, reach beyond the school. The evidence of the past is quite clear. Politicians frequently overstate what the curriculum can do. They push definitions too far; they burden curricula with too many expectations.

Teachers and schools need guidance, but the guidance needs to be generic and to support professional judgement. If “democracy, mutual respect and tolerance” are the (British) values we want children to be taught, then they apply equally to the processes by which curricula are constructed. If that’s not the case, then schools and teachers are just as likely to draw on at least one of the long-lasting influences of Empire cited by the last governor of South Yemen.

 

Birmingham’s ‘Trojan Horse’ saga: partnership and trust are what are needed now

Chris Husbands

The inspection report is glowing: “This is an outstanding school… Teaching is outstanding overall… The curriculum is outstanding… Students behave exceptionally well in lessons…” In 2013, 75% of all its pupils attained five GCSEs grades A*-C including English and Mathematics, placing it in the top fifth of all schools nationally. Eight in 10 of its disadvantaged pupils achieved expected progress in English – a result comfortably above national averages. More than this, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector visited the school himself and enthused that it was “doing fantastically well. Walking around the school and talking to children, they all appreciate being here. The students are so ambitious for themselves and that is so heartening”.

Just two years later the school is in special measures (PDF): attainment and the quality of teaching are now good, and the quality of leadership and management is now inadequate.

Readers may have guessed: this is Park View Academy in Birmingham, one of the 21 schools at the centre of no less than three separate probes: a co-ordinated OFSTED inspection, a city council investigation, and an investigation by a former head of the anti-terrorist branch. All stem from the charges that a well-organised ‘Trojan Horse’ conspiracy was seeking to transform Park View and other non-faith Birmingham state schools into Islamic schools.

This is a complex saga from which almost no-one involved comes out well. Despite attempts in some of the press to trail the story as a tale of failing inner city schools, inspection reports make it clear that at least several have been good or outstanding.

Despite attempts to link the story to the failings of an urban local authority, several of the schools, including Park View, are already academies: outside the control of the local authority, governed solely by funding agreements with the secretary of state. ‘Academisation’ may be a solution for struggling local authority schools, but it is a difficult policy to promote when schools have already made the switch.

And the complexities get more challenging. For a generation, governments have strenuously advanced the cause of parental influence in education. Under the current government, groups of parents who are dissatisfied with what is on offer from their local authority have had the right to self-organise to propose the establishment of ‘free schools’. But in Birmingham, it appears, some parents have self-organised in a quite different way.

And while schools’ role in community cohesion was dropped from the UK’s inspection framework, across the world schools are encouraged to build strong links and work with the grain of the community. For more than a decade schools have been encouraged to develop their own curriculum specialisms: today’s reports make it clear that in some cases curriculum autonomy has serious shortcomings.

Considerable – and understandable – concern has been raised about segregating boys and girls for assemblies and parts of the curriculum, but it is not too long since the Daily Telegraph and Guardian reported favourably on single gender classes in mixed schools, which, enthused the Telegraph, improved “self esteem… and enthusiasm”. For a century and a half, governments have tolerated or encouraged faith schools in the publicly funded education system. Catholic dioceses, for example, have argued strenuously for the right of Catholic parents and Catholic schools to exercise discretion over the teaching of aspects of science, religious education, sex education or abortion. In Birmingham, it seems, some parents took to extremes their aspirations for a faith ethos and faith practices in their local schools.

The evidence is that Park View Academy still achieves good examination results for many of its pupils despite severe deprivation. The inspected schools have not ceased to succeed for their pupils. But OFSTED also, now, find evidence of something more sinister in the targeting of schools by determined groups and individuals. The saga of the ‘Trojan Horse’ in Birmingham raises profound questions about developments which have become deeply embedded in education policy and practice::

  • How should schools balance their commitment to high attainment with a mission to enhance community cohesion?
  • Do curricular and pastoral practices matter if attainment is high? Politicians of all stripes have on occasion argued that the only thing that matters is results.
  • To whom and how should schools be accountable? There is a powerful trend in much policy debate that schools are fundamentally accountable to parents. How should school leaders respond to insistent demands from well-organised and articulate parent groups wherever they come from?
  • We expect schools to co-operate one with another – but should schools be required to co-operate with other schools from different faith traditions? Politicians of all persuasions have trumpeted the benefits of schools making their own decisions.
  • In an academised school system, in which schools are autonomous, who should monitor the practices – not simply the performance – of schools?

There are no easy answers to these questions. All the evidence is that managing urban school systems demands exceptional skills locally. Gifted local leadership, as David Woods, Chris Brown and I showed in our study of education transformation in Tower Hamlets, can make a real difference to outcomes, but it demands sophisticated skills and strategic planning.

What Birmingham schools now need is not the media blitz which is accompanying the publication of high profile reports, but something quite different: a determined and long-term focus on linking high performance with community development, commitment to working through local tensions and developing confidence and trust amongst all those involved. They need the heat taken out of the situation. Urban schools, as anyone who has taught in or worked with them know, always face difficult challenges. Addressing those challenges requires resilient and professional support.

Local interim executive boards; partnerships between schools, local and national authorities working to engage community groups; trust and effective leadership all need to be built to develop a consensus on what the schools – publicly funded and secular institutions – need in order to deliver high standards and win parental and community support. Among the last things Birmingham schools need right now are press headlines.

 

Mandarin makes sense for children and schools

Katharine Carruthers

Since the Prime Minister’s visit to China in December 2013, there has been more talk in the press not just about the rise of China, but also about the teaching of Mandarin Chinese. Does teaching Mandarin make sense for schools – for students, MFL departments or headteachers? From our perspective here at the Institute of Education (IOE), it certainly does.

Let’s take students first. Learning Mandarin Chinese has the same excitement for young people as any language, but more so. When you are 11, learning to conjugate sein or avoir can seem to take forever, but Chinese verbs don’t conjugate and there are no tenses. So the verb ‘to be’ is 是 and it is the same whether it is linked with I, you or they; to make 是 into a past timeframe, you just precede it with 昨天 (yesterday). Progression is easy.

The standard mantra is that characters are hard. This is not true and they often build up logically. Let’s look at a few. Note that they all have the same first character which means electric.

电脑 (electric brain),电话 (electric speech),电视 (electric vision),电影 (electric shadows).

I leave the reader to guess the English meanings, but answers are at the end of this blogpost. More of this approach to decoding characters can be found at www.chineasy.org. Take a look.

For students, learning Chinese is enriching culturally. Study of the language and culture enable an entirely different way of looking at things. Students move quickly beyond the Paul Merton in China comprehension of the country (i.e. that everything is weird) to a more complex understanding of aspects of an ancient culture and artefacts, the ever-popular martial arts and a thriving contemporary cultural scene.

Does teaching Chinese make sense for the MFL Department? It makes no sense not to. The students love it and there is plenty of evidence, albeit anecdotal (for we are yet to push forward on a substantive research agenda) that students who have not hitherto been motivated by language learning enjoy Chinese too. Nearly everyone is starting together at the beginning with characters. Characters are constructed from components; students enjoying shapes and looking for similarities are intrigued by the puzzle. There are no endings, so characters can be manipulated to make sentences easily.

At GCSE, where Mandarin Chinese is embedded in a school, results are often amongst the best in the MFL department. There are now good teaching materials available, written by teachers teaching Chinese in this country. There is a strong Chinese teaching community of native and non-native speaker teachers, which is mutually supportive. There is an Annual Chinese Conference for school teachers of Chinese – this year’s (the 11th) is on 6 June at the IOE with over 270 registered to attend.

Why should headteachers make room for Mandarin? Gone are the days when it was impossible to find a teacher. Mandarin Chinese teachers are doing PGCEs and coming into the system.

There is a chance to give your school an edge. Schools which offer Mandarin Chinese are finding that this is a ‘key draw’ for applicants. Some schools, for instance Kingsford Community School in Newham, have found that focus on Mandarin and Chinese culture for all has also proved a cohesive force for the school community.

Headteachers need to prepare their students for the future. As Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, said in the Guardian this week: “In an international world of tomorrow, I’d love to see more children in Britain having more than one language to be able to fall back on.”

There is no reason why not to add Mandarin Chinese to the range of languages on offer in school and lots of compelling reasons why it is a very good idea.

Katharine Carruthers is director of the Confucius Institute at the IOE.  This post was first published by The TES as part of Languages Week  

Answers to the character quiz:电脑(computer),电话 (telephone),电视 (TV),电影(films).