Chinese School: the results are in – and it’s good news for rote-learning

The TES is reporting that last nights final episode of the BBC’s “…Chinese School” programme showed that students in the Chinese stream outperformed their peers in end-of-trial tests.

…In the three-part BBC2 documentary series, Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, 50 Year 9 pupils at Bohunt School in Hampshire – TES school of the year, 2014 – were taught for four weeks as though they were at school in China. Lessons began at 7am and finished at 7pm, and included copious front-of-class dictation and rote-based learning.

The English 14-year-olds did not respond to this well. By episode two, those who did not spend the lessons singing or drinking cups of tea were simply ignoring their teachers altogether.

But in episode three, screened tonight, the 50 Chinese-school pupils were pitted against the rest of their year in science and maths tests. And, despite the quiet confidence of Bohunt’s head and the shame-filled agonising of the Chinese teachers, the Chinese-school pupils won out.

In maths, the Chinese-school pupils scored an average of 67.7 per cent, compared with the average of 54.8 per cent scored by the rest of Year 9. In science, the Chinese-school average was 58.3 per cent, compared with 50 per cent for the rest of the year…

More at: Chinese School: the results are in – and it’s good news for rote-learning


Whilst this was a TV show rather than a rigorous experiment, these results are quite surprising, especially in view of how little many of the students seemed to engage with the Chinese approach.

What do you make of this outcome and the series in general?

Please give us your reactions in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. This can’t be considered a valid experiment whatever the outcome.  50 14 year-olds volunteered (presumably as it would need parental consent) to a four-week experiment in which they were supposed to be subjected to ‘Chinese’ education. .The programme showed them messing about except on a few occasions when they were cooking, creating, solving puzzles (ie when they were not being lectured).
    These programmes were heavily edited and pandered to prejudices (English students lazy, poorly-behaved, lacking self control; Chinese teachers pontificating from the front).  But if in the end the pupils got good marks in tests it shows they must have absorbed something (though not necessarily understanding it) and there were, therefore, times when they were attending (but this makes boring TV).
    I haven’t watched the final episode yet.  I might change my opinion after watching the recording.
    One thing irritated be particularly – the theme from The Longest Day was played every time the head hoved into view – presumably this was comic interlude.

  2. The pupils weren’t ‘rote learning’ – they were shown mostly being inattentive while  hapless Chinese teachers lectured from the front.  However, there were times when they were doing practical stuff.  This wasn’t rote learning.
    What we saw may not have been typical modern Chinese teaching.  When Charlie Stripp, NCETM, visited Shanghai he found lessons  designed to develop understanding.  These debunked prejudices about ‘Chinese’ education.
    This was confirmed by Professor Fann, S’Hampton uni, in the TES article who said there wasn’t as much memorization in Chinese education as is claimed – critical and creative thinking were also important.  
    NOTE to schools minister Nick Gibb – critical thinking doesn’t appear to be viewed as a woolly skill in China according to Prof Fann.  And learning times tables finishes at number 9 in China – not at number 12 as you appear to think.

  3. VictoriaJaquiss

    Janet2′ exactly. I would also add so what? Were these children born just to get good Maths results? Is that the meaning of life? I would point to other anecdotal evidence that Chinese kids are the most depressed, and miss out on childhood. Why? For good Maths results?

  4. peterbaileygolf

    SchoolsImprove drmartintoms Improved scores on barely relevant standardised tests at the expense of student engagement and wellbeing?

Let us know what you think...