England ranked one of the top performing countries for maths in the West

Pupils in England have risen up the international rankings for maths, placing England as one of the top performing countries in the western world. 

A worldwide education study published today (5 December 2023) shows England has significantly outperformed the international average and risen from 17th for maths in 2018 to 11th, and from 27th in 2009.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment of 15-year-olds’ mathematics, reading and science ability. Conducted by the OECD, it is widely accepted as the international benchmark for academic attainment for secondary school pupils. 

Today’s results also show that England has ranked 13th for both reading and science, having been placed at 14th and 13th respectively in 2018 and 25th and 16th in 2009.

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said: “These results are testament to our incredible teachers, the hard work of students and to the government’s unrelenting drive to raise school standards over the past 13 years.   

“Taken together with our children being named ‘Best in the West’ for reading earlier this year, England is now firmly cemented as one of the top performing countries for education in the western world. 

“Our teachers, head teachers and support staff should be incredibly proud of their role, day in and day out, transforming education standards in this country and giving our children the platform to build successful careers and compete for the best jobs in world.”  

The government said that side from attainment, the report has also highlighted other positives findings, including that England’s education system is more equitable that most– meaning that all children all have access to a brilliant education and a chance of success, no matter their background. 

Additionally, the report found that pupils in England were generally more positive about the quality of their maths lessons and the support given by their teachers, than the OECD average.  

The report does highlight the challenge of the pandemic. In England, pupils have been supported to catch up with almost £5 billion available for education recovery measures, including more than £1 billion for the National Tutoring Programme alone, which has revolutionised the way targeted support is provided for the children and young people who need it most. 

The report also found that the majority of pupils in England reported feeling safe in their schools. 

Responding to the results, Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The pandemic has undoubtedly had some impact on these results. But after a decade in which investment in our schools has been nowhere near what is needed and they are struggling with a growing recruitment and retention crisis, it is notable that the OECD also highlights the effect of other underlying issues facing education systems.

“The dedication of schools in helping pupils through this difficult time and its aftermath hasn’t been matched by the level of government ambition or investment required.

“While international comparisons can be interesting and useful, we have to be very careful not to over-interpret these results. The value in studies like PISA are the questions they raise for policy-makers, but rankings or league tables are unhelpful and can be misleading if we’re not careful.

“We of course should be keen to learn from other nations – that requires a deep understanding of different systems and not just simplistic comparisons. We also need to factor in that different nations will be at different stages of education policy development, and that can influence the results too.

“It is important that politicians and policy makers remain inquisitive about these results, rather than using them for political ends.”  

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