Education policymakers in England need to do more to advance the cause of highly able pupils to prevent them falling behind their international peers when it comes to mathematics, according to a new report by the Sutton Trust.
Research by the social mobility charity found that in terms of maths ability, teenagers in England are ranked 26th out of the 34 OECD nations.
The report also found that the vast majority of English 15-year-olds who do achieve the highest marks in maths tests come from either independent or grammar schools, and "almost no pupils" from normal state schools achieve the top level.
Assessing data from the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), researchers working on behalf of the Sutton Trust at the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham revealed that just 1.7 per cent of pupils in England achieve Level Six in mathematics tests.
The OECD average is 3.1 per cent, while Switzerland and South Korea at the top of the table saw 7.8 per cent of pupils achieve the highest score.
On an international scale England slips even further down the rankings, with 26.6 per cent of Shanghai students achieving a PISA Level Six and 15.6 per cent of their peers in Singapore doing likewise.
The Sutton Trust also highlighted that in the vast majority of countries mathematics is compulsory to the age of 18 and so if comparisons were made at that point the performance gap would be even wider.
"These are shocking findings that raise profound concerns about how well we support our most academically able pupils from non-privileged backgrounds," commented Sir Peter Lampl, the Sutton Trust's chairman.
"Excellence in maths is crucial in so many areas such as science, engineering, IT, economics and finance.
"These figures show that few bright non-privileged students reach their academic potential - which is unfair and a tragedy for them and the country as a whole."
In response to its findings, the charity is proposing a pilot in which policymakers and state secondary school teachers would support and challenge pupils identified as 'highly able', before rolling it out to more schools if successful.
It has also suggested dropping the term 'gifted and talented' and replacing it with the more "honest and straightforward" phrase 'highly able'.
Posted by Theo Foulds