OECD: English pupils are 'more practical than academic'

 

Education Editor

Teenagers in England’s schools are among the best in the world when it comes to solving problems, according to the first international study of its kind.

The study, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),  of 44 nations concludes: “Students in England perform significantly above the OECD average in problem solving (scoring 517 points compared to an OECD average of 500). England ranks above the top-performing European countries.”

It puts England in 11th place in the international table.

However, it still lags behind the Pacific Rim countries - top of the international table were Singapore, Korea and Japan with scores of 562, 561 and 551 respectively.

According to the researchers, England’s good showing is likely to be down to teachers regularly giving pupils real-life problems to solve - such as finding out the most convenient meeting place for three friends from different places in terms of miles.

Michael Davidson, of the OECD, said it was a “fair conjecture” to suggest the reason for the good performance was because “these skills are being taught in schools”.

“They spend so much time in secondary schools that they must be learning these skills at school - rather than picking them up elsewhere.”

A breakdown of the figures showed that England also had a higher than average number of top-class performers (14.3) and the percentage only able to manage simple problems like choosing the cheapest model from a furniture catalogue was also lower than the OECD average at 14.6 per cent.

The figures also showed that, in contrast to the results in academic tests, boys were more likely than girls to perform better at problem solving. In England, the gap between the sexes was six percentage points - less than the international average and said by researchers to be statistically insignificant.

Today’s figures come after a disappointing result for the UK in last year’s PISA study, which measured the performance of 15-year-olds internationally in reading and maths.

It showed that literacy and numeracy standards in the UK had shown little or no improvement for three years - we were 26th in maths and 23 in reading out of 65 countries.

The findings prompted Education Secretary Michael Gove to claim that standards had stagnated under Labour, adding: “the last government failed to secure the improvements in school standards our young people desperately”.

 

He has introduced a shake-up of tests and exams to make them tougher and - within the national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds - concentrate on core knowledge plus spelling grammar and punctuation. The emphasis will be put on end-of-course exams rather than coursework during the periods of study.

However, there was a word of caution from Mr Davidson over this approach. “It will obviously be important not to squeeze out all the opportunities there are to develop problem solving skills now amongst 15-year-olds”.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National association of Head Teachers, said;  “PISA’s study into problem-solving tells us three important things.

“Firstly, problem solving is increasingly important to success in life and work,  Secondly, schools can make a difference.  Thirdly the UK performs ‘significantly above average’ in developing problem solving skills in young people.

“This last fact is of immense credit to our schools and challenges us to discover how we can do even better.

“It seems that the answers lie both in what you teach and how you teach. Core skills in maths and literacy matter greatly as does knowledge of particular domains. However, it is also important to build an inquiry-based, problem-solving style of learning ob top of these foundations.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “These results show our young people are strong in problem-solving - this is a skill we should build on.

“But they also confirm that generally those who perform best in maths, reading and science - Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and South Korea - are also those who do best in problem-solving.”

Technology and the art of problem solving

A strong emphasis on teaching technology is essential to developing pupils’ problem solving skills, according to the head of one of the country’s most successful state schools.

“We encourage all youngsters to take technology up until GCSE,” said Mike Griffiths, head of Northampton School for Boys.

“That’s an area where they’re always being confronted by design problems and issues like ‘how are you going to do this?’"

“It really should pervade all through the curriculum, though. Take science and maths, for instance. It’s all very well to teach about quadratic equations but it’s using them and knowing what you’re going to do with them that gives you the kind of practical skills that the British always seem to have had.

”We’ve been good at achieving things - climbing Everest, getting the land-speed record, building better ships and better firearms - although possibly the latter is one we might not celebrate now.”

Today’s research showed that boys were better at problem solving than girls - six percentage points ahead in English schools, according to the report.

Mr Griffiths believes his boys prove that “problem solving is an extremely important skill, rather than just concentrating on rote learning, which may well be necessary for learning the basics,” he said. “We need also to encourage pupils to be innovative and come up with solutions to get round a problem.

“I would like to think that’s something that the British are still very good at.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral