English come bottom of class in maths

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The Independent Online
JEnglish nine-year-olds are trailing pupils in the rest of the world in maths but outstripping most of them in science, according to an international study published yesterday.

Tests showed that English nine-year-olds came 10th out of17, lagging far behind their contemporaries in Pacific Rim countries and in Eastern Europe.

Nearly half of English pupils could not answer the question what is five fewer than 203.

Ironically, a higher proportion of them thought they were good at maths than in those countries which topped the table.

In science, however, only four countries did better, and 13 per cent of English pupils were in the international top 10 per cent.

When the last similar study in maths was published six years ago, England was level with countries such as the United States, Canada and Ireland. Now it has slipped behind them.

By contrast, in science it has pulled ahead of both Hungary and Hong Kong since 1984.

Researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), who carried out the study in England, suggested that the poor performance in maths might be explained by larger class sizes than most countries in the survey, except for Japan and Singapore, and by less whole class teaching, less homework and greater use of calculators than elsewhere.

The improved performance in science might be explained by the extra time devoted to science since the introduction of the national curriculum and extra training given to primary teachers.

The length of time spent on maths is unlikely to be the reason why English pupils are struggling. Time spent on maths is higher than in most other countries, though less than in Singapore, which tops the world maths league.

Scotland did slightly better than England in maths but worse in science.

Around 175,000 nine-year-olds in more than 4,000 schools in 26 countries took part in the survey, the Third International Maths and Science Study, believed to be the largest of its kind ever compiled.

No western European country significantly outperforms England in science but three do so in maths.

English pupils did poorly in all areas of maths apart from geometry and data representation, analysis and probability.

They were well behind their counterparts in number, fractions, measurement and proportion.

Sue Harris, one of the study's authors, pointed out that no other country had performed better in geometry, perhaps because of the practical way in which maths is taught in English schools.

The results for both maths and science are broadly similar to those for 13-year-olds in the first part of the study, which was published last year.

In science, pupils were above the global average in all four areas: earth science, life science, physics and environmental science.

Dr Seamus Hegarty, the foundation's director, warned of the difficulties of making international comparisons. In Norway, for instance, children do no start school until they are seven and in some countries a significant proportion of less able nine-year-olds is kept down.

Estelle Morris, the school standards minister, said: "This survey shows only too clearly how much we have to do to raise standards in maths. "And it highlights how right we are to concentrate on basic skills in the primary years."

An example of the maths questions included in survey:

Question 1: Write this addition fact: 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 = 20 - as a multiplication fact.

Answer: 5 x 4 = 20, or 4 x 5 = 20

Question 2: Four children measured the width of a room by counting how many paces it took them to cross it.

The chart shows their measurements. Stephen 10, Edward 8, Anna 9, Charles 7. Who had the longest pace?

Answer: Charles.

How the countries performed

Maths:

Singapore

Korea

Japan

Hong Kong

Czech Republic

Ireland

United States

Canada

Scotland

England

Cyprus

Norway

New Zealand

Greece

Portugal

Iceland

Iran

Science

Korea

Japan

United States

Czech Rep

England

Canada

Singapore

Ireland

Scotland

Hong Kong

New Zealand

Norway

Iceland

Greece

Portugal

Cyprus

Iran

Science:

Korea

Japan

United States

Czech Rep

England

Canada

Singapore

Ireland

Scotland

Hong Kong

New Zealand

Norway

Iceland

Greece

Portugal

Cyprus

Iran

League tables show countries where test results were strictly comparable.

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