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HK-UK SPeCTRM project

university of hong kong

Social Pedagogic Contexts for Teaching and Research in Mathematics Facilitating learning in two cultures

This bilateral research project was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (RGC). Its focus is the development of social pedagogic contexts for collaborative groupwork in primary mathematics.

The project sought to capitalise on Hong Kong primary teachers’ mathematical knowledge as shown by Hong Kong children’s consistent success in international tables of academic achievement, and English primary teachers’ expertise and familiarity with interactive teaching methods, notably the use of collaborative groupwork. It responded to the HK Education Board’s concern to bring the use of groupwork into their teachers’ pedagogical repertoires, and to the then UK Department for Education’s concern to improve primary teachers’ mathematical subject knowledge. (Photo: University of Hong Kong).

When implemented according to social pedagogical principles, groupwork has been found to improve key Stage 2 (7-11) children’s higher order reasoning in English and science (ESRC TLRP 'SPRinG' project, 2007 -

The HK-UK SPeCTRM project is now complete, having run from July 2012 to December 2013. The project was extended into the SPeCTRM Impact Project funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Awards Pilot Project scheme at Cambridge University. This enabled us to extend and deepen the scope of the research to involve more teachers and schools until July 2014.

A 'case study' document prepared for the Impact projects can be seen at the project website:  

The key findings include: 
➢ No significant differences between UK and HK teachers on a mathematics subject knowledge audit (a ‘test’ taken at the start of the project)
➢  There were gains in pupil achievement across the board, with very big gains in some English classes. Hong Kong pupils' scores were higher overall, however, and also showed significant gains. The test was developed in Hong Kong, and was adapted for English pupils by the research team. 
➢ There were significant improvements in the quality of talk in groups over time and compared with the control classes in sustained interactions, questioning, giving information, explaining, and group maintenance. This was an important aim.
➢ Significant improvements were found in teacher self-efficacy for teaching maths in the topics they rated as most appropriate for groupwork (problem-solving, investigations, weights/measures/ shape) and in mental arithmetic. There were too few complete HK questionnaires for a valid UK-HK comparison as the HK teachers did not teach a number of the topics that are included in English maths curriculum.    
➢ Teacher ‘concerns’ about using groupwork in maths showed advances in both HK and England progressed one or two ‘CBAM’ levels. English teachers started at a higher level showing competence and familiarity with groupwork in maths, and moved towards dissemination. In HK, teachers were concerned initially about using groupwork, but moved up to adapting groupwork to their own class needs. 
➢ Observational ratings of social pedagogy in practice were very positive in England (e.g. briefings, debriefings, nature of tasks, classroom organisation) from the start, reflecting their greater familiarity with group work. HK teachers also improved greatly over time, starting with basics such as rearranging the classroom furniture to accommodate group work more appropriately. 
➢ One difference in application was the use of groupwork mainly for investigations in England, whereas the HK teachers were more likely to use it for arithmetical problems.


The UK-HK SPeCTRM Final Conference was held on Saturday 14th June, 2014, at the Faculty of Education. There were presentations from the Cambridge team ( Linda Hargreaves, Susan Steward, Rocio Garcia Carrion) and Dr Dennis Fung representing the team from the University of Hong Kong.

Professor Margaret Brown, King's College, London,  gave the Keynote lecture entitled : 'Aspirations and Realism in primary maths'.  

The presentations and photographs can be found at:  


BERA 2014 ( )

Results from Hong Kong and England were presented at BERA 2014 in a symposium entitled: 

The effects of social pedagogic contexts in the teaching of primary mathematics: facilitating learning in two cultures: Hong Kong and England

 The symposium included four papers presented by Prof. Peter Kutnick (Hong Kong University), Dr Linda Hargreaves and Dr Rocio Garcia Carrion (University of Cambridge).


The research teams:

University of Cambridge
Faculty of Education

The University of Hong Kong
Faculty of Education

Dr Linda Hargreaves
(Project Director)

Prof Peter Kutnick
(Project Director)

Susan Steward (Research Associate)

Prof Frederick Leung

Dr Tim Rowland (Consultant)

Dr Ida Mok

Prof Maurice Galton (Consultant)

Dr Dennis Fung

The project was supported also by Dr Anthony Pell (statistical consultant), Dr Rocio Garcia Carrion (EC Marie Curie Research Fellow) and Matthew Telford Tyler (University of Georgia, USA). 

Professors Christine Howe and Kenneth Ruthven were advisers to the Cambridge team.


To investigate how far groupwork applied according to social pedagogical principles can facilitate teaching and learning of primary mathematics in Hong Kong and England

  • to provide professional development for primary teachers in understanding and applying social pedagogic principles to groupwork in mathematics
  • to determine the effects of carefully implemented groupwork on teachers' self efficacy to teach mathematics and children's higher order mathematical thinking
  • to establish an intercultural community of practice between English and HK primary teachers and researchers for the sharing of knowledge and expertise in primary maths and groupwork.

Design and activities

The project included teachers in 10 primary schools in England and in Hong Kong. In each country, at least 15 teachers were trained in a ‘social pedagogy group’ to implement groupwork according to social pedagogical principles in KS2 mathematics in each country. This means taking account of both social and cognitive aspects of group work when planning, organising and teaching lessons. A smaller group of teachers and their classes formed a control group and continued to work in their usual way.  Measures included teachers' mathematic knowledge, self-efficacy to teach maths,  pupil attainment and, in UK, pupil attitudes to maths and groupwork. 

The ongoing SPeCTRM Impact phase is from January to July 2014. Schools in Cambridgeshire, Essex, and Norfolk are taking part, using Lesson Study to focus on social pedagogical collaborative groupwork in maths. 


The chart below shows the timetable of activities in England.


Project Activities

July - October 2012

Recruiting teachers and developing research instruments

November – December 2012

Maths teaching and groupwork questionnaire to teachers
Training sessions for the teachers
Teacher interviews and mathematical knowledge and self efficacy audit
Set up links with Hong Kong teachers

January – February 2013

Pupil maths assessment

Observation/video of a maths lesson
2 way video exchange with HK teachers & team

March – May 2013

Continued use of groupwork, and exchange of ideas through
digital networking with HK teachers

June – July 2013

Observation/video of a maths lesson

Teachers’ mathematical knowledge and self efficacy audit
Pupil maths assessment
Teacher interviews

November 2013

January - July 2014 

Teachers' Workshop

Impact Phase: to deepen and extend the research

to involve more schools and teachers


If you are interested in the research and have any questions, please contact Dr Linda Hargreaves 

 ( ), Susan Steward ( or Dr Rocio Garcia Carrion (

Link to the project website at: 

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