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UK 'stagnates' in latest Pisa results

04/12/2013 Joanna
The UK education sector has stagnated, according to the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests.

Figures released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that, out of 65 participants worldwide, the country was ranked 21st for science, 23rd for reading and 26th for mathematics. 

The exams, which are held every three years, test the knowledge of 15-year-olds and the best performing region was Asia, as Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong took the top three sport for maths. 

There seems to be a gender divide when it comes to mathematics and science, as girls in the UK do not enjoy the subject as much. Solving problems leaves them feeling anxious and, as a result, they are being outperformed when compared with boys. 

As with many other nations, the UK's socio-economically disadvantaged students are less likely to succeed in school, a situation that needs to be addressed if long-term, sustainable improvements are going to be made. 

The nation spends more than average per head on education than other OECD countries. Cumulative expenditure per student between six and 15-year-olds is $98,023 (£59,819) - the OECD average is $83,382.

Students are generally satisfied with their experiences, with 79 per cent saying they feel like they belong in school, while 88 per cent find making friends easy. 

The case for reform 

Responding to the publication of the results, education secretary Michael Gove stated the reforms introduced by the government - including changes to the curriculum and channelling financial support towards poorer pupils - are designed to help the country keep pace with the best and brightest nations.

However, he acknowledged more needs to be done to drive up standards across the board. "For all the well-intentioned efforts of past governments we are still falling further behind the best-performing school systems in the world. 

"In Shanghai and Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong ... children are learning more and performing better with every year that passes - leaving our children behind in the global race," Mr Gove stated. 

Earlier this week, chair of the PiXL Club Sir John Rowling said schools need to be doing more preparatory work with students to ensure they can perform well in the exams. Speaking to the Times Education Supplement, he called for a "rigorous approach" to be adopted. 

Room for improvement?

Mr Gove stated that by looking at the high-performing and fast-improving education systems, common themes can be identified. These include an emphasis on helping every child to succeed and introducing an aspirational academic core curriculum for all students until they are 16.

He also pointed out these countries have a high level of autonomy for their headteachers and a rigorous system of accountability when it comes to performance. He added these principles have been underpinning reforms introduced in the UK since 2010.

"The good news from the Pisa research is that in England we have one of the most progressive and socially just systems of education funding in the world," the politician remarked. 

What's next for the UK?

With the reforms currently in place, the UK can expect to climb up future Pisa rankings. However, Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust education charity, admitted he is very worried by the current situation, while he thinks "strong action to improve classroom teaching and opportunities for disadvantaged students" is required. 

John Wastnage, skills policy adviser at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the results should act as a "wake-up call" for all parties involved in the education sector. While he accepts that academic performances need to be improved, he thinks this is only part of the solution.  

"We need to see better careers education in schools and more engagement with employers so that young people know what options are available to them when they leave education," he added.ADNFCR-2164-ID-801668658-ADNFCR
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