Concern as major slump in science standards in primary schools is revealed


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The Independent Online

A major slump in science standards in primary schools is revealed in an international league table published today.

Tests of 10-year-olds around the world reveal that England has fallen from seventh to 15th place out of 50 countries - with poor teaching and the scrapping of national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds being blamed. In addition, the results of 14-year-olds have also fallen - putting them ninth in the league table compared with fifth in 2007.

The picture is better in reading, though, with England climbing from 15th out of 40 to 11th out of 45 in the past five years.

However, experts warn there is still a significant gap between the country’s best readers - who are on a par with world leaders Hong Kong - and those who are weaker who still struggle in the classroom.

“England’s top performers are at the levels of the best 10-year-olds in the world,” said the Department for Education (DfE). “But the percentage of weak readers remains high and this long-term problem is what is holding England back from greater improvement.”

In maths, there was little change with 10-year-olds coming ninth out of 50 compared to seventh out of 36 in 2007 - while 14-year-olds fared worse coming 10th out of 42 countries compared with seventh out of 45.

Today the DfE described the fall in science standards as “a major concern”. It said that science teachers for 10-year-olds were “less prepared” to teach the subject than those for 14-year-olds.

In a speech to mark the publication of the results, Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss said: “We must produce a workforce that is literate and strong in maths and science, able to be successful in a highly competitive global jobs market and attract the high quality jobs that will secure the future of the economy.”

Whilst ministers noted that the decline in science coincided with the decision to drop tests in the subject at 11, Ms Truss stopped short of calling for the tests to be reintroduced.

However, she insisted they showed that externally marked tests “drive up standards and that teacher assessment alone cannot improve or even maintain standards”.

Today’s figures stem from the publication of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study - published every four years - and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study - taken once every five years.  The tests were sat in May 2011 and show that the Pacific Rim countries of Korea (science for 10-year-olds and maths for 14-year-olds), Singapore (science for 14-year-olds and maths for 10-year-olds) and Hong Kong (reading for 10-year-olds) top the tables.