UK children plummet down science league table

The Government faces further embarrassment over standards of education, after Britain plummeted down yet another international league table this time for science.

According to a new set of rankings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Britain's schools are ranked at 14th place, 10 places lower than the last time a similar survey was conducted in 2000.

The ranking puts the quality of science taught in Britain's schools behind Slovenia, Estonia and Liechtenstein but still in the top third of world nations.

The findings follow a dismal performance in a broader international league table published this week which revealed a dramatic drop in primary school children's reading ability. England fell from third to 15th out of 47 countries in reading standards, the third highest drop behind Romania and Morocco over the past five years.

The Tories accused the Government of failing to equip the younger generation to compete in a global market. "Yesterday we slid down the international reading league table; today we plummeted down the international science league table," said the shadow Schools Secretary, Michael Gove.

"The Government has failed to equip our children properly for the future by using tried and tested teaching methods. It has failed to keep us internationally competitive by making sure our exams are properly rigorous."

The OECD's work formed part of its three yearly survey, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

During 2006 Pisa assessed the competencies of 15-year-old students through an extensive two-hour test. More than 400,000 students from 57 countries close to 90 per cent of the world economy took part. The focus was on science but the assessment also included reading and mathematics.

The OECD warned that comparing results with previous years was not "strictly" valid because of changes in the tests. But the last time the UK took part in the Pisa survey in 2000 it was ranked fourth.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families yesterday stressed that direct comparisons with previous surveys could not be made with certainty and that once the full findings are released Britain's science standard would still be "among the countries with the largest numbers of high achieving students".

Michael Harris, research manager at the National Endowment for Science Technology and Arts, called the Pisa league table "cause for concern".