Stories + Views
UK is 6th in international education league – but wasn’t the UK supposed to be plummeting down the tables?
“In the last ten years, we have plummeted in the world rankings from 4th to 16th for science, 7th to 25th for literacy and 8th to 28th for maths. These are facts from which we cannot hide.” Education secretary, Michael Gove, said this in January 2011.
Since then the UK statistics watchdog has expressed “concern” about Gove’s use of this data - he disregarded warnings that the figures were faulty, he overlooked the significance of more countries entering pupils for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and ignored contradictory evidence such as the results of the Trends in Maths and Science Survey (TIMSS).
So what would happen if the results for PISA, TIMSS and another international test, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) were combined and linked with a broader measure of educational attainment: literacy levels and graduation rates? The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has done just that in The Learning Curve published by Pearson.
The result? The UK was sixth behind Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. The UK was second in Europe, second in the Western world.
But before I get too carried away, there are caveats. The EIU wanted to measure the impact of education on broader consequence such as the labour market and social outcomes but found this was impossible. It found some data was missing. There’s a disclaimer – the index, called the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, is only a first step. The tables differ according to what is measured. For cognitive skills the five top countries were Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. But for educational attainment (literacy and graduation rates) the five top countries were South Korea, UK, Finland, Poland and Ireland.
So, will the Department for Education issue a press release congratulating pupils and teachers for this achievement – second in the Western world – and publicise this positive news about UK education? Sadly, there is nothing today on the DfE website. Perhaps they’ll blow up the balloons tomorrow and the cheers will reverberate throughout the land.
Or maybe the silence will be deafening.
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