Are the World Maths Rankings Relevant?

The 2012 OECD PISA study ranked Great Britain 26th in the world for maths. The study tested over half a million students aged between 15 and 16.

You can have a go at some of the questions. They are graded in levels 1-6, level 1 being the easiest.

UK maths performance v Shanghai and Liechtenstein

The graph shows the percentage of students who passed each level; 92% of students from the UK passed level 1, but only 3% passed level 6. The equivalent numbers for Shanghai are 99% and 31%.

On 6th December 2016, the 2015 results will be released. Will the UK have moved up the rankings? Does it really matter?

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) state that ‘math proficiency is a strong predictor of positive outcomes for young adults‘. This is a really important point; if we want our young people to be successful in the world, they need to be adept at maths. The country rankings provide useful insights for policy makers, but it is the overall score which matters and the UK certainly has room to improve.

The report goes on to say that:

The world’s best education systems place great emphasis on selecting and training teachers. They set clear targets and give teachers the autonomy to achieve them.

Children whose parents have high expectations perform better. These children are more motivated to learn, have more confidence in their own ability and try harder.

As parents there is little we can do about the first point on a day-to-day basis. We can however, take some positive and immediate action with respect to the second point. It should be expected that children will do well at maths, I believe everyone can. So, if they are struggling or not being stretched in maths at school, raise everyone’s expectations and get them some extra help.

Here are the key findings from PISA 2012 for the United Kingdom in more detail:

Graphic from
  • The United Kingdom performs around average in mathematics.
  • Students in the United Kingdom are generally positive about their experiences at school and about the climate in their classrooms. As in many other countries, they are much less positive about learning mathematics though.
  • Girls in the United Kingdom do not enjoy mathematics, are anxious when asked to solve mathematical problems, and under perform compared with boys.
  • When compared with PISA 2006 and PISA 2009, there has been no change in performance in any of the subjects tested.
  • The United Kingdom has a higher GDP and spends more on education than the average in OECD  countries, as well as higher levels of tertiary education and a lower share of the most socio-economically deprived groups. However, these comparative advantages do not have a clear relationship with educational outcomes.
  • As in many other countries, socio-economically disadvantaged students in the United Kingdom are less likely to succeed at school than their more advantaged peers. However, some countries are more successful than the United Kingdom in reducing the influence of socio-economic status on student performance.
  • Students from an immigrant background in the United Kingdom perform as well in mathematics as other students. This is in contrast to the situation observed in many other OECD countries.

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