UK lagging behind in education

British schools have failed to improve in recent years and are still lagging behind Asian nations on reading, science and maths, according to a major international study. The UK was 26th out of 65 for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science.

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School reforms 'inspired by top-ranking countries'

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the coalition government's reforms are driven by what happens in countries who performed better than the UK in English, maths and science in the international school league tables published today.

Read: UK education performance 'failing to improve'

Mr Gove said his radical reforms were inspired by what happens in Singapore, South Korea and Japan, which topped the performance charts. He said the top performing countries, certain common features occur, which he has placed at the heart of the Coalition strategy. They are:

  • Improving social justice
  • Providing a more rigorous curriculum
  • Giving schools greater autonomy
  • Giving head teachers greater powers to hire and fire

Gove: Education results show urgent need for reform

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the UK's poor performance on the international school tables underlines the urgent need for the reforms the government is making.

Education Secretary Michael Gove Credit: ITV News

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons, he said:

These poor results show the last government failed to secure the improvements in school standards our young people desperately need. Labour poured billions of pounds into schools and ratcheted up exam grades - yet our education system stagnated and we fell behind other nations."

Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the poor performance showed the failings of the government's schools policy.

"The PISA report is a big wake-up call. Eastern dominance centres on the importance that these high performing education systems place on the quality and status of the teaching profession as the central lever for driving up standards.

"This report exposes the failings of this Government's schools policy: a policy that has sent unqualified teachers into the classroom and prevented effective collaboration between schools."


Boys outperforming girls in maths

Girls in the UK perform worse than boys in maths and are less likely to enjoy the subject, a major international study into education has revealed.

Boys perform better in maths, and slightly better in science, but not as well as girls in reading. Credit: PA Wire

It found that UK boys outperformed girls by 12 points on average in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.

The gender gap across OECD countries on average is 11 points, with boys doing better in most countries.

Boys also did better than girls in science with a gender gap of 13 points, larger than the OECD average one one point. But girls performed better in reading, scoring 25 points more on average, significantly less than the OECD's average gender gap of 38 points.

However, Andreas Schleicher, special adviser to the OECD's secretary-general, said the gender gap in the UK is considerably better than many other countries.

"In the UK that gender gap is not actually that pronounced. The UK is doing better than many countries in giving students, boys and girls equal opportunities, on balance."

Scotland ahead of the rest of UK in maths and reading

Schools in Scotland came out top in maths and reading in the UK, whilst schools in England led the way in science.


  • Scotland scored 498 points
  • England scored 495 points
  • Northern Ireland scored 498 points
  • Wales scored 480 points


  • Scotland scored 506 points
  • England scored 500 points
  • Northern Ireland scored 498 points
  • Wales scored 480 points


  • England scored 516 points
  • Scotland scored 513 points
  • Northern Ireland scored 507 points
  • Wales scored 491points
  1. Wales

Welsh drop in rankings for maths, reading and science

The latest PISA results show Wales has slipped back from what the Welsh Government described as an "unacceptable" performance the last time they were published in 2010 (after they were sat in 2009).

Wales has dropped several places in the global rankings list for all three areas.


  • Score: 468 (a fall from 472 in 2009)
  • Rank: 43rd out of 68 (a fall from 40th out of 67 in 2009)
  • Significantly below the OECD average
  • Just behind Croatia and Hungary


  • Score: 480 (a rise from 476 in 2009)
  • Rank: 41st out of 68 (a fall from 38th out of 67 in 2009)
  • Significantly below the OECD average
  • Just behind Slovenia and Iceland


  • Score: 491 (a fall from 496 in 2009)
  • Rank: joint 36th out of 68 (a fall from 30th in 2009)
  • Significantly below the OECD average
  • Just behind Luxembourg and Croatia


  1. Wales

Wales falls further in global PISA education rankings

Wales has fallen further behind in a worldwide assessment of pupils' maths, reading and science skills.

Welsh pupils are again behind their counterparts in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in all three areas, and are below the global average in those areas.

Welsh pupils continue to struggle with PISA tests, which aim to assess real-life skills. Credit: PA

Results from the so-called PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests, sat by 15-year-old pupils around the world last year, have been published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Wales is now ranked 43rd out of 68 countries for maths, 41st for reading, and 36th for science - all lower positions than when the tests were last held in 2009.

The Welsh Government has previously targeted the top 20 positions of the influential league tables when the next tests are sat in 2015.

UK schools out of top 20 in all subjects

The UK failed to make the top 20 in any of the three subjects in international tests taken by 15-year-olds.

In 2009, the UK placed 16th in science, but this year only made it to number 21. However, the pupils' performance in maths and reading has improved.

  • In 2009, the UK placed 25th for reading, today this rose to 23rd
  • In 2009, the UK placed 16th in science, today this fell to 21st
  • In 2009, the UK placed 28th in maths, today this rose to 26th

UK 'lagging' despite higher than average spend

A major study into the educational achievements of teenagers across the world has found that UK students have "failed to improve" since 2009, and remain around average in maths and reading, and slightly above average in science.

The study found that the UK spends more per head on education than the average across OECD countries, at around £59,889 per student between the ages of six and 15.

The OECD average is £50,951.

UK education 'still lagging behind' leading countries

An international survey of more than half a million 15-year-olds from 65 countries shows that UK teens are still lagging behind countries such as China, Korea and Japan in educational standards.

UK teenagers are about average in maths and reading, and above average in science. Credit: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The UK's average score for maths was 494 and in reading it was 499, broadly the same as the OECD averages, putting the country on a par with nations such as the Czech Republic, France,and Norway.

In science, UK teenagers scored 514 points, above the OECD average and similar to results in Australia, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Slovenia.

But it also leaves the UK lagging far behind leading nations including Shanghai in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan in each of the areas tested.

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