Reading and maths standards falling in Britain, says OECD

The reputation of Britain's state education system took another heavy knock yesterday as figures showed that secondary schools have tumbled down an international league table of reading and maths standards.

Figures from the OECD, measured over the past six years, showed that mathematics standards among 15-year-olds have plummeted, with 16 countries overtaking Britain since 2000, including Slovenia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria. The UK has fallen from eighth to 24th place in the international league table.

Standards in reading have also slipped, with the UK falling behind 10 countries, among them Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Japan. Britain fell from seventh to 17th place.

In both subjects, UK pupils were close to the OECD average, but children in countries such as Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Canada were significantly above average. Korea and Finland were top-placed for reading skills, and Taiwan did best in the maths tests.

The findings prompted warnings yesterday that the UK economy would suffer if today's teenagers are not being taught basic subjects properly. The figures are based on tests taken by 400,000 teenage students in 57 countries, and assessed by the Paris-based Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), run by the OECD.

Results are published every three years, but the UK did not participate in 2003, so yesterday's comparison was with the unusually good results achieved by UK students in 2000.

The bad news follows other indications that standards in UK schools are slipping when measured against international competitors. Last week, Pisa released its findings on science, which showed that the UK had dropped from fourth place in 2000 to between 12th and 18th place.

And Boston College, in the US, published a survey of reading standards among five- to 10-year-olds, which showed that England had fallen from third to 19th place, and Scotland from 14th to 26th place, since the previous survey in 2001.

The study also indicated that British primary school pupils feel less safe at school than children of the same age in countries such as Iran, Russia and Morocco.

The Government has suggested that the comparisons with 2000 were not the main point, and emphasised that the findings suggest British schools are still above the OECD average overall. The Schools minister, Jim Knight, said: "It is pleasing the Pisa report reflects students having strong attitudes towards the importance of mathematics and English. Numeracy and literacy are the foundation of a good education and the reforms we are already driving forward will ensure pupils continue to achieve the core skills they need in life."

Other commentators suggested the drop in the UK's international standing was a severe blow to the Government and bad news for the future of the economy. "How can the UK hope to compete economically if our young people are not as well-educated as those in other countries?" said Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society.

"Science and mathematics are essential to our economic well-being, yet we are seeing the UK stumble down the world rankings."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Guru Careers: Product Training Specialist / Software Trainer

£25 - 32,500K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Produ...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence