Letter: Michael Portillo's 'off-the-cuff' remarks on education standards abroad

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The Independent Online
Sir: If and when Michael Portillo's xenophobia ('Portillo forced to withdraw sleaze slur on foreigners', 5 February) abates he may care to reflect on the following deficiencies in Britain's educational performance.

1) Secondary school children in Britain perform much worse, in international mathematical tests, than their counterparts in France, Germany, Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland. This was true in 1963 and continued to be true in 1990.

2) Only 37 per cent of 16 to 18- year-olds in the UK (compared with an average of 75 per cent for 12 other OECD countries) were in full-time education in 1990; of the remaining 63 per cent, only 15 per cent were in youth training.

3) Britain's workforce has a much lower level of skills than the workforces of other countries: for example, in 1991, 64 per cent had no vocational qualifications compared with 35 per cent for the Netherlands and 26 per cent for Germany.

The deficiency in skills and qualifications that is so evident in Britain's industry is, in turn, reflected in low levels of industrial productivity.

To draw attention to these issues is not to talk Britain down. On the contrary, it is to highlight what we might usefully learn from others. To bask, instead, as Mr Portillo would have us do, in a sense of complacent superiority, can only be to court further


Yours faithfully,



6 February