Seeing success: inside the world’s top education systems

17 October 2017

There are three stand-out features of the world’s top-performing education systems, a seminar has heard.

Over 100 people attended a Cambridge Assessment Network talk by Lucy Crehan, whose book Cleverlands chronicles her experiences observing the best educational practice from around the world.

In her presentation, Lucy said that while it was important not to ‘cherry pick’ from successful education systems, it was vital to note some of the reasons for their success. She said from her experience in Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada, there were three stand-out features: 

  1. Teacher collaboration
    In Finland and East Asia teachers hold weekly joint timetabled planning of lessons, while in Japan, Singapore and Shanghai teachers add an additional step, observing lessons that they have created together.
  2. Additional support
    In Finland and Canada additional qualified teachers are employed to support students in small pull-out groups, while in Japan, Shanghai and Singapore the class teacher gave extra support, either during the lesson or before or after.
  3. Mastery curricula and approach
    In Shanghai, Singapore and Japan, fewer topics are covered initially, but in greater depth. The vast majority of pupils progress through the curriculum at the same pace, with the whole class moving on to the next topic only once every child is ready.

Lucy added that distinctive views of children’s ability play a central role. This continues to be influenced by the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius: a belief that all children are capable of achieving high goals, depending on the way things are presented by the teacher and the effort which each child puts into learning it.

“If you don’t believe that it’s possible for all children to achieve high goals, then you’re not really going to put in the effort to explain things properly,” she said.

“You need to believe it’s possible, and the children need to believe it’s possible, and you need to want to learn - you need to believe it’s valuable to learn.”

Tim Oates CBE, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment – which sponsored Lucy’s research – thanked Lucy for her talk, saying the book it was based on was an “extraordinary journey of an illuminating kind, informed by some of the best educational theory”. Her talk was then followed by a wide-ranging question and answer session. 

Lucy will also be taking part in a one-day conference held by Cambridge Assessment next month. Questioning Questions on 23 November at Kings Place in London will stimulate the debate about the importance of effective questioning in education. Register now on the Cambridge Assessment website.