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OECD Study puts England at bottom for Maths and Literacy

(252 Posts)
missinglalaland Tue 08-Oct-13 13:19:51

A major study by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development puts England's 16 to 24 year olds at 22nd for Literacy and 21st for Numeracy out of 24 developed countries. Ouch!

What can we do to fix this? More money? Less permissiveness? Sorting by ability? Different teacher training? Longer school years? Different methods?

rabbitstew Tue 08-Oct-13 18:04:38

meditrina - how can they go back that way and compare "problem solving in technology rich environments" between the younger and older cohorts? Surely if you look at the old tests, they weren't able to test that in the same way??? It seems to me from Robert Peston's reporting that a basic assumption could be that by concentrating on our problem-solving skills, we have lost ground in literacy and numeracy (but mainly numeracy) and that the problem is not evenly spread - we do badly by the least well off in society, not by everyone. Surely we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and go back to rote learning as a way of quickly bumping up our literacy and numeracy skills, just so that our youngsters can look a bit more like 65 year olds???

missinglalaland Tue 08-Oct-13 18:12:08

As I understand it, the report compares our youth with the youth of other countries and they unfortunately are near bottom and additionally it notes that our children are the only ones in the developed world not to be able to outperform their elders at these tests.

Arguing about the validity of this OECD study is a bit pathetic imho. It reminds me of the far Republican right in the USA arguing about the validity of global warming. If the facts don't suit my personal desires and prejudices, then the facts must be wrong!

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but we are not all entitled to our own facts.

riddlesgalore Tue 08-Oct-13 18:17:47

We have a skills problem in England, ask business, making excuses or denying there is a problem won't solve it. Hopefully our teachers and politicians will finally work together to solve it rather than staying entrenched.

rabbitstew, saying that "so many people seem to think they can conclude much from the media reports on it" because "we are all so poorly educated", implies that we haven't read the report ourselves. I presume like me, you have, and that your analysis is based on the evidence given in the report.

Bonsoir Tue 08-Oct-13 18:19:21

I'm not surprised because the A-level system is particularly bad versus other countries' school leaving exams at maintaining numeracy and literacy across the board in a cohort.

All DC need to maintain English and Maths until age 18 - and most countries do.

ipadquietly Tue 08-Oct-13 18:31:41

Anyone found a copy of what they actually test? I haven't had much success.

Bonsoir Tue 08-Oct-13 18:33:10

And in response to the OP: ditch those awful A-levels in favour of something like the IB.

missinglalaland Tue 08-Oct-13 18:42:15

Bonsoir funny you should mention it! This is my dp's argument. He did Science and Maths and feels terribly uneducated because his knowledge of British history ended with the English Civil War at his O-levels. He hasn't read many of the great works of English literature either.

It's not just the folks with little maths who feel left behind.

rabbitstew Tue 08-Oct-13 19:07:41

riddlesgalore - you make very odd assumptions, given the "At a Glance" report is 440 pages long. I suspect you will find the majority of people commenting on this OP will not have read 440 pages of report and will be relying on the media to inform them of what that summary says.

riddlesgalore Tue 08-Oct-13 19:27:39

Yes rabbitstew, I had assumed that because you were so critical of all the media reports that you had read the report yourself and had your own interpretation. I presume you will read the report now and then give us the benefit of your considered opinion and solutions if you decide there is a skills problem among the young.

Aquelven Tue 08-Oct-13 19:28:59

Whichever way you look at it, it strikes me that it isn't a record that the education establishment can be proud of.

rabbitstew Tue 08-Oct-13 19:42:42

No, riddlesgalore I will hope that someone in the media tries to make an intelligent analysis of it. At least Robert Peston has made a good start, although he doesn't appear to think it makes such depressing reading as you appear to. Given that you have read the entire 440 pages, perhaps it would be a good start for YOU to tell us which bit of his assessment you disagree with?

riddlesgalore Tue 08-Oct-13 19:44:28

I agree aqueiven, and we need an honest debate on how to address the problem. I don't think politicians or educationalists should be allowed to duck the problem any longer. They need to take responsibility and admit their failings. Personally I am fed up of those responsible blaming each other, parents need to hold all to account - teachers, schools, unions, politicians.

BoneyBackJefferson Tue 08-Oct-13 20:17:07


"I think the idea is that children should be better educated than their grandparents. England appears to be the only country where this isn't so it seems."

There is no way to prove this assumption.

BoneyBackJefferson Tue 08-Oct-13 20:19:17


You missed parents off the list of those that should be held to account.

rabbitstew Tue 08-Oct-13 20:23:59

But what is, "the problem?" Isn't part of it the power struggle between politicians and educationalists? After all, there has been unprecedented political interference in UK education over the time that standards have apparently been getting worse.

Maybe, if you don't as a country have any clear idea what you are actually supposed to be training your young people up for, you can't come up with a sensible education system. At least Germany knows it needs lots of young people to go into manufacturing. What exactly DO we want our young people to do???

riddlesgalore Tue 08-Oct-13 20:36:05

I think the OECD are very clear in their summary:

*"Some countries have made significant progress in improving skills proficiency

In other countries, the talent pool is shrinking...*

........ However, progress has been highly uneven across countries. In England/Northern Ireland (UK) and the United States, the improvements between younger and older generations are barely apparent.Young people in these countries are entering a much more demanding labour market, yet they are not much better prepared than those who are retiring. England/Northern Ireland (UK) is among the three highest-performing countries in literacy when comparing 55-65 year-olds; but England/Northern Ireland (UK) is among the bottom three countries when comparing literacy proficiency among 16-24 year-olds. In numeracy, the United States performs around the average when comparing the proficiency of 55-65 year-olds, but is lowest in numeracy among all participating countries when comparing proficiency among 16-24 year-olds. This is not necessarily because performance has declined in England/Northern Ireland (UK) or the United States, but because it has risen so much faster in so many other countries across successive generations. ..which could imply a decline in the relative standing of these countries.

Of course, the survey data are results from a cross-section of populations, not cohorts, so some of the observed differences across generations are attributable to changes in the composition of populations, such as increased social diversity, income inequality or migration, or to different rates with which skills depreciate with age. At the same time, the fact that socio- economic patterns explain part of the observed changes is little consolation to countries whose economic success depends on the quality of their actual labour force, not the hypothetical labour force that they might have had in a different context. The implication for these countries is that the stock of skills available to them is bound to decline over the next decades unless action is taken both to improve skills proficiency among young people, both through better teaching of literacy and numeracy in school, and through providing more opportunities for adults to develop and maintain the skills as they age."

CecilyP Tue 08-Oct-13 20:39:05

But what is, "the problem?" Isn't part of it the power struggle between politicians and educationalists? After all, there has been unprecedented political interference in UK education over the time that standards have apparently been getting worse.

Interestingly, in the 1996 International Adult Literacies Survey, again by the OECD, the youngest cohort, the then 16 - 25 year olds did better than any other group. Though I am sure at the time there would have been no newspaper headlines proclaiming an improvement in educational standards.

In that survey, the 3 middle groups did much the same as each other, while the oldest group, then aged 56 - 65 did significantly worse - perhaps because many of them had their education disrupted by WW2. That group is now out of the survey and those in the middle groups are now the oldest group and no less literate or numerate than anybody else.

BoneyBackJefferson Tue 08-Oct-13 21:12:21

unless action is taken both to improve skills proficiency among young people, both through better teaching of literacy and numeracy in school

How can you improve teaching when the managers of the teaching change the rules every couple of years?

I can't think of a gap of more than 3 years where the system in the UK hasn't been fucked around with. In the countries that have "done well" the educationalists have been left alone by the politicians to do their job.

I can't think of any other country where the minister for education has declared "war" on teachers nor where education is used as a political football.

missinglalaland Tue 08-Oct-13 21:22:36

Does anyone know what is different in Finland, South Korea or the Netherlands for instance?
I have recently read articles about children not getting enough sleep in the USA because of all the homework!? In middle class schools with worried parents, everyone is in overdrive. It all looks pointless and self defeating to me, as confirmed by the USA's standing in the OECD report.

rabbitstew Tue 08-Oct-13 21:34:41

The report itself does actually make interesting reading - far more interesting than just being told that we are 22nd/21st out of 24 in literacy and numeracy and that we should all be shocked and ashamed by this. I don't think it actually reveals anything that people weren't already aware of through other studies, though.

rabbitstew Tue 08-Oct-13 21:39:17

Well, on the face of it, the Netherlands and South Korea seem like very different countries. In what ways do their education systems and educational priorities bear any resemblance to each other?

stringornothing Tue 08-Oct-13 21:43:34

Actually missing I suspect the opposite of your insinuation is the case. In England and most of the Far East, the paranoid homework pushing tiger parents are producing very good results (as measured by this particular study). The top end of the English cohort (not sure about the US) are doing just fine - that's not the problem.

OneLittleToddleTerror Tue 08-Oct-13 22:02:39

MooncupGoddess 50 years ago South Korea was really, really poor, and presumably educational standards were correspondingly weak

Are you sure about this? My parents are born and bread in Hong Kong and both are in their mid to late 60s. They are both university educated, and so are many of the parents of my friends. I don't think even in that generation, it is normal to leave school at 14. If you are talking my grandparent's generation (the 80-90yo), then yes, it's true they aren't well educated. One of my grandmother is illiterate, and the other is a trained nurse after leaving school at 13.

South Korea is one of the four Asian Tigers, so I would expect a similar education profile as Hong Kong. If South Korea doesn't have a fairly educated workforce in the 50s and 60s, then who are the leaders of hugely successful companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai?

rabbitstew Tue 08-Oct-13 22:39:56

I don't see how you can make a sensible comparison between Hong Kong 50 years ago and South Korea 50 years ago and conclude that they were very similar.

Wonderstuff Tue 08-Oct-13 23:07:22

I think that the relative wealth in Finland and the massive welfare spending which means there is a smaller gap between the rich and poor plays a part.

The status that society places on education and teaching is also important.

I think for top graduates in the UK teaching is a poorly paid, fairly high stress, long hours profession. I've worked with Australian and Canadian teachers who are shocked at how much work we do and how poorly we are paid in the UK.

I spoke to a couple of teenagers today who were roaming corridors, not in class, I'm unsure whether they had been kicked out or not gone. I asked them to return, they didn't, I explained that education was in their interest rather than mine, they said it was unnecessary, that not all jobs needed GCSEs, I pointed out that unemployment for young people without an education was very high, limiting their horizons, all that, they told me they planned to deal drugs.. I called SLT

I don't know where we went wrong, I don't believe Gove is the solution. I don't think its 1950s education we need, but 1950s aspiration.

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