England is 20th out of 38 in maths league

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The Independent Online

England has come 20th out of 38 countries in an authoritative international survey comparing the performance of 14-year-olds in maths - lagging behind Slovenia, Latvia and the Czech Republic.

England has come 20th out of 38 countries in an authoritative international survey comparing the performance of 14-year-olds in maths - lagging behind Slovenia, Latvia and the Czech Republic.

But the position of English students has improved in the last five years, with their maths skills now on a par with their counterparts in the United States, New Zealand and Italy. Five years ago English students were placed 25th out of 41.

Ministers yesterday defended the Government's record and said it would take time for its education initiatives to work.

The findings of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study also reveal that English students beat most other countries at science. They came ninth out of 38, matching the achievements of Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, Hungary, Australia, Belgium and Canada and surpassing that of the United States, New Zealand and Italy.

As usual, the Pacific Rim countries dominate the top of the table in maths. Singapore and Korea are the best performers while Morocco and South Africa come bottom.

Overall, England is well above the average for science and just above it for maths.

In England 2,960 pupils from 128 schools took part. Last year, they were given the same maths and science tests as pupils in the 37 other countries which all volunteered to take part.

In science, English pupils did better than average in all the six areas tested, including physics, chemistry and life science. In maths, their achievement was average in number and algebra, above average in measurement but below average in geometry.

In the past, experts have blamed England's poor showing in maths on neglect of mental arithmetic, too little whole-class teaching and too much use of calculators. Calculators are used by pupils more often in English schools than in any other country.

Some experts have suggested that the introduction of science from the age of five in primary schools, earlier than in some other countries, may help to explain success in science.

Ministers acknowledged yesterday that maths standards were not high enough but pointed out that they were introducing measures to improve them.

Estelle Morris, the schools minister, said that English pupils' position in the maths and science tables had improved slightly since 1995.

"But our actual level of performance in 1999 remained about the same and this reinforces our determination to raise standards through initiatives such as the national numeracy and literacy strategies.

"I am confident that the improvements we are making at primary level will have a long-term effect and will be measurable among 14-year-olds in due course," she said.

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