World Education Rankings – Where is the UK?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2015 PISA results and report on 6th December 2016. The tests assess 15-year-olds in maths, reading, science and problem solving. The focus of the report was on science:

In the context of massive information flows and rapid change, everyone now needs to be able to “think like a scientist”: to be able to weigh evidence and come to a conclusion; to understand that scientific “truth” may change over time, as new discoveries are made, and as humans develop a greater understanding of natural forces and of technology’s capacities and limitations.

The UK climbed from 21st place in 2012 to 15th for science, although the point score fell to 509 from 514.

The UK ranking and score for maths has barely changed from 2012, we are now 27th compared with 26th in the rankings with an average point score of 492 compared with 494 in 2012. Only 11% of students in the UK are top performers in maths and 22% do not reach the baseline of mathematical achievement, meaning they cannot solve problems “routinely faced by adults in their daily lives”.

In 2015, Nicky Morgan said she wanted the UK to be in the top 20 of the PISA rankings by 2020 and would use the PISA test results as a measure of exam reform success. This aspiration is all but impossible now and the government has quietly dropped it.

In fact, the results could be used to justify the move to more grammar schools. Nick Gibb, the schools minister for England, said of the PISA results: “We know that grammar schools provide a good education for their disadvantaged pupils, which is why we want more pupils from lower income backgrounds to benefit from them.”

Others think we should focus on teachers, Leora Cruddas, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Almost half of secondary school pupils in England are taught in schools where the headteacher believes that staff shortages are hindering learning. We need to recruit more teachers. We need to retain them. We need to pay them properly. And we need to support them with world-class professional learning programmes.”

There is some good news though. The OECD reported that nearly 1 in 3 students (29%) in the United Kingdom expect to work in an occupation that requires further science training beyond compulsory education. This includes an increase in the share of students intending to become science and engineering professionals and an increase in the share of students intending to become health professionals.

Boys are more than twice as likely as girls to expect to work as engineers, scientists or architects (science and engineering professionals). Whereas, girls are almost three times as likely as boys to expect to work as doctors, veterinarians or nurses (health professionals).

Every science, engineering and health professional has to be proficient at maths. If students are not captivated or interested in maths for maths sake, then planning a career in one of these professions could be the way to motivate and raise expectations in maths. There are various initiatives to get young people inspired by science and technology, one example is the excellent future brunels programme in Bristol. I would like to see many many more of these programmes, so every school child gets the opportunity to experience the wonderful world of STEM at an early age.

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