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Dramatic improvement in science and maths

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Wednesday 10 December 2008 01:00 GMT

A Sharp improvement in the performance of 14-year-olds taking maths and science in England has been revealed in an international study.

But research shows they no longer find either subject as much fun as they used to – with 25 per cent fewer pupils reporting a highly positive attitude towards maths lessons and 21 per cent fewer liking science.

"They see the importance of studying maths and doing well in it to help them in their working lives," said the Schools minister Jim Knight. "They're knuckling down and getting on with it, doing their homework." He acknowledged, though, that the next step was to make lessons more enjoyable through better training for teachers to make lessons more exciting.

The results of the Trends in Maths and Science Study revealed that England had come seventh out of 49 countries in an international maths test for 14-year-olds compared with 18th out of 46 in a similar study four years ago. In science, England had climbed to fifth out of 49 from seventh out of 46.

In a similar test for 10-year-olds, England again improved its maths performance coming seventh out of 36 compared with 10th out of 25 in 2003 – but was marginally further down the science league table (seventh out of 36 compared with fifth out of 25).

The top places were taken by Asian Pacific Rim countries – with Singapore heading the science table and Taiwan heading the maths table. England was the highest performing European country in the tests as a whole.

Scotland fared worse in the league table coming 15th in maths for 14-year-olds (compared with 19th previously) and 17th in science (18th). In the 10-year-old's tests, its performance had fallen from 18th to 22nd in maths and 16th to 23rd in science.

Sir Peter Williams, Chancellor of Leicester University and author of a government review of maths teaching, said: "I have been at homes of Korean friends when their children have come back from crammers at 10pm at night to go straight to bed. It's not a system I would wish to see us copy."

Christine Blower, the acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it was a "real concern" to see the drop in positive attitudes towards the subjects. Forty per cent of 14-year-olds were highly positive towards maths, compared with 65 per cent four years ago. In science, the figures were 55 per cent and 76 per cent.

Mr Knight said the 14-year-olds who took the test would have been the first year group to benefit from the introduction of the daily numeracy hour in primary schools.

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