We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Pedagogical Application of New Developments and Approaches

A research project of the School of Education.


Many scholars have identified teachers’ knowledge as a decisive way of enhancing student achievement (Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002; Hill, Rowan, & Ball, 2005; Monk, 1994). Shulman (1986) proposed three kinds of teacher knowledge: content knowledge as subject-matter knowledge; Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) as how teachers bring the content knowledge to their work with students; and curricular knowledge as how particular content relates to other forms of knowledge in the curriculum. No strong relationship was found, however, between teachers’ content knowledge and students’ success (Mathematics Learning Study Committee, 2001), though teachers’ content knowledge can provide ‘an effective structure’ for setting up activities to facilitate learning (Hodgen & Marshall, 2005, p. 169). Recently, Coe, Aloisi, Higgins, and Major (2014) state that PCK and the quality of instruction are proven to have a strong impact on students’ performance. An et al. (2004) proposed a network to explain secondary school teachers’ PCK. In this network, teacher knowledge of students, in effectively analysing how their pupils think and learn, is related not only to how well students perform, but also how to teach (Mathematics Learning Study Committee, 2001).

In the case of England,

Mathematics made to measure (OFSTED, 2012, p.72) particularly pointed out specific weaknesses at Key Stage 4 and in the Sixth Form: 'lack of agreement among teachers in the same school or guidance in the schemes of work about the preferred ways of tackling particular topics, or the depth of treatment expected for different groups; and little clarity about how concepts were to be introduced and linked to ensure the development of understanding'.

From an international perspective, students in East Asian countries have consistently outperformed their counterparts from other countries in large-scale assessments. Shanghai students have the ‘equivalent of nearly 3 years of (extra) schooling’ above the international average around which the performance of the United Kingdom (UK) students were located (OECD, 2013, p. 17). The reasons for this can be explained by various factors such as different cultures, features of the education system and curriculum. Amongst these factors, UK policy makers have recently placed greater emphasis on identifying Shanghai’s teaching approaches to close the gap especially in mathematics. In February 2014, Elizabeth Truss, Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare at that time, led a fact-finding mission to Shanghai to see how mathematics was being taught from a pedagogical perspective. Meanwhile, the ongoing two-year mathematics teacher exchange project between England and Shanghai (2014-2016) tries to identify key elements of the Shanghai teaching approach that could be incorporated in English classrooms. After the first year of the primary exchange project, the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) believes that the teaching for mastery approach, based on the pedagogical philosophy in Shanghai, is the key to deepening students’ understanding. Implementing this approach has been suggested for all English primary and secondary school classrooms by NCETM. However, there is little research in this area and nothing beyond KS3.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Panda Pedagogical Application Of New Developments And Approaches (£17000.00 from )


(1) to establish a professional learning community for teaching (PLC4T) and pioneer collaborative lesson planning involving the local schools, regional Archimedes Maths Hub, Durham University School of Education, Education Durham, and the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP) across the North East;

(2) to enhance teachers’ decision-making for effective evidence-based teaching to promote (i) students’ learning with understanding of Maths, and (ii) deepening of teachers’ understanding and application of the Mastery Approach;

(3) to make recommendations to policy makers on specific actions to support PLC4T. The project will be a trial to establish PLC4T, including further research into topics which are ‘dropping down’ to Key Stages, i.e. from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 2, Key Stage 5 to Key Stage 4.


Phase 1: 

  • Establish the project management team (see Appendix A) comprised of stakeholder representatives from key influencers of Maths teaching and teacher education in the North East;
  • Establish a pilot learning community of approx. 8 in-service teachers of mathematics to work collaboratively, initially to (i) develop its terms of reference; (ii) assess the feasibility of a cross-school single-subject CPD model; (iii) identify the potential impacts and valued outputs (e.g. student learning);
  • Produce a lessons learnt report that can be and will be shared initially through subject leader network meetings, then disseminated more widely through the local Maths Hubs, initial teacher training courses, and FMSP.

Phase 2: 

  • Implement an action research project based at the lead school (Hermitage Academy), to trial the development of innovative approaches to teaching which blend the best ideas from local practitioners and Shanghai, contributing to improvements in strategic techniques, e.g. assessment for learning;
  • Resources developed through the use of action research methodology (i.e. the general empirical method in action research projects) will help to deepen insight into ‘intelligent practice’ and provide a learning resource for the project leading to sharing of expertise aimed at improving pupil outcomes in secondary mathematics;
  • Disseminate the project findings to the teacher learning community of practice, including through the ITE;
  • Recruit additional participants to join the learning community to achieve a critical mass (approx. 16-20 members) which will meet as a group for 1.5 days per term to address the most urgent support needs for teaching mathematics in the North East; quantify the potential impacts and valued outputs (e.g. student learning and performance; teacher satisfaction);
  • Raise awareness of the changing needs of the teaching profession calling for research into the systemic determinants of ontology, epistemology, and institutional factors (regulative, normative, cultural/cognitive) that underpin the dominant pedagogical paradigm and the educational reforms required to create a learning environment hospitable to the Mastery Approach and epistemic learning.


From the School of Education