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England among highest performing western countries in education

England is among the highest performing European and western countries in global education study.

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. 

These strong results demonstrate that the government has made real progress in driving up standards. We are determined to build on this success and take the long-term decisions necessary to improve attainment for generations to come. 

This is why in October, the Prime Minister set out a bold new plan to introduce a new baccalaureate style qualification – the advanced British standard (ABS) – that we will see every student in England study some form of maths and English to age 18, giving them the skills they need to succeed. As part of this, the government has already announced an investment of £60 million over two years to further improve maths education and help lay the groundwork for the introduction of the ABS. 

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.

They build on England’s significantly improved position for 9- to 10-year-olds reading ability in a separate international study earlier this year, PIRLS, in which English children were ranked fourth out of 43 comparable countries – making them the best in the West.  

Education standards have risen sharply since 2010, with 89% of schools now rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, up from just 68% 13 years ago. 

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said: 

“These results are a 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.”  

Aside 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 government has enjoyed considerable success for maths over the years, with England achieving our highest ever score in primary school maths in TIMSS 2019. Over £100 million has been invested in the Maths Hubs programme, whose flagship Teaching for Mastery offer will have reached 65% of secondary schools by 2025. To help boost maths attainment further, the Government also announced the creation of a new National Professional Qualification in April to help embed best practice in their schools. 

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.

Notes to Editors:

  • The department is extremely grateful to all schools, pupils, teachers and leaders who took part in PISA 2022. 
  • Attracting talented teachers is crucial to ensuring the best education for our children.
  • Teacher recruitment will see a huge boost this academic year with £196 million to attract more teachers across key subjects. This will fund scholarships, bursaries and salary grants to help thousands of candidates through their initial teacher training (ITT).  scholarships for those training to teach mathematics, physics, chemistry and computing will now be brought up to £30,000 tax-free, in order to attract more talented teachers in order to attract more talented teachers in these key subjects to support the delivery of the advanced British standard (ABS), which was announced by the Prime Minister in October.
  • Driving up standards in literacy has been the government’s long-term priority, and our focus over the past decade has been on improving the teaching of reading through the tried and tested approach of phonics.
  • In 2021, we introduced the phonics screening check. At the time, only 58% met the expected standard. In 2023, show 79% of five- and six-year-olds met the expected standard.
  • We have invested £60million in our English hubs programme which is designed to develop expertise in teaching reading in schools.
  • Our network of 40 maths hubs is supporting schools across the country to improve maths teaching based on mastery teaching approaches used by some of the highest performing parts of the world.
  • In November, the Prime Minister set out a new vision to make maths to 18 compulsory, through the advanced British standard. This government has made significant improvement in boosting maths standards.
  • Over £100 million has been invested in the maths hubs programme, whose flagship teaching for mastery offer will have reached 65% of secondary schools by 2025
  • Last year, we made the multiplication tables check compulsory in primary schools last year to help ensure children aged 8 to 9 know their times tables better.
  • In 2019 primary pupils achieved their highest ever score in the TIMSS international test
  • Ofsted recently found a ‘resounding, positive shift in [primary] mathematics education.’
  • The maths hub’s flagship teaching for mastery offer was expanded to 75% of primary schools by 2025, in line with the Government’s wider strategy on maths. The mastering number programme, which aims to support children in early primary school master the basics of arithmetic, is also expanding to 8,000 primary schools by 2024.
  • In its international reporting, the OECD will highlight the countries which did not meet the PISA sampling standards. This includes England. As a precaution, this should be taken into account when interpreting the findings for these countries, including England, as this may have had a positive impact on both their scores and rankings. The department provides more detail on this in our national report (attached), in particular our non-response bias analysis, which looks at the impact of response rates on the representativeness of our data.
  • In England, in response to the pandemic 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 OECD class countries which perform above the OECD average and in which the effect of socio-economic status on attainment is less strong than the OECD average as “highly equitable”.
  • It should be noted that changes in rankings over time are particularly sensitive to factors such as the number of participating countries and changes in other countries’ scores, as well as the caution required due to countries not meeting the PISA sampling standards. The report also highlights the impact of the pandemic which means, while England’s ranking has increased relative to other countries, some individual scores are lower than the previous PISA study. This reflects a similar pattern to other countries. Further detail on England’s performance can be found in the 2022 PISA national report for England.

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