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New OECD league table is a damning indictment of Labour's record on education

By Jonathan Isaby

School-sign Today saw the publication of the OECD's 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses the abilities of children coming towards the end of compulsory schooling in reading, maths and science in dozens of countries around the world.

The full details of the report are online here, but the stark facts about English pupils' standards represent a damning indictment of Labour's years in office. Between 2000 and 2009, England has dropped:

  • from 7th to 25th place in reading;
  • from 8th to 27th place in maths; 
  • from 4th to 16th in science.

The report concludes that the best education systems around the world recruit and develop the best teachers; allow greater freedoms for schools and leaders;  have clear standards, high expectations, and external exams; have effective identification and sharing of best practice; and have clear, transparent and proportionate assessment and accountability systems - all of which represent the ideas which Michael Gove has been pushing in the recent education White Paper.

Michael Gove Sky News The Education Secretary said of the OECD reprort:

"It underlines the urgent need to reform our school system.  We need to learn from the best-performing countries.

“Other regions and nations have succeeded in closing the gap and in raising attainment for all students at the same time. They have made opportunity more equal, democratised access to knowledge and placed an uncompromising emphasis on higher standards all at the same time. These regions and nations – from Alberta to Singapore, Finland to Hong Kong, Harlem to South Korea – should be our inspiration.

“While each of these exemplars has their own unique and individual approach to aspects of education, their successful systems all share certain common features. Many have put in place comprehensive plans for school improvement which involve improving teacher quality, granting greater autonomy to the front line, modernising curricula, making schools more accountable to their communities, harnessing detailed performance data and encouraging professional collaboration. It is only through such whole-system reform that education can be transformed to make our nation one of the world’s top performers.”  

Nick Gibb Meanwhile, schools minister Nick Gibb seized upon some of the other depressing statistics which the report uncovers and asserted the need for policy changes in order to reverse them:

“I’m concerned that almost 40 per cent of pupils in England never read for enjoyment. The difference in reading ability between these pupils and those who read for 30 minutes per day was equivalent to a year’s schooling. 

“By far the most popular activities recorded for our 15 year-olds involved communication either through email or online chat. Of course this has its place and it’s good that our young people have these skills in the computer age, but we cannot allow our youngsters to neglect the basic hobby of picking up a book and reading it simply for the enjoyment of it.

“We need to reform English. The great tradition of our literature should be at the heart of school life. Our literature is the best in the world and we should be proud if it. But thousands of children – including some of our very brightest – leave school unable to compose a proper sentence, ignorant of basic grammar, incapable of writing a clear and accurate letter. We will change this as an absolute priority.”