England’s poor ranking for highly able students

The Sutton Trust’s recent review of support for highly able children found that England’s teenagers are more than four times less likely to reach the highest levels in international maths tests as students from Switzerland and Korea, and half as likely as those from Slovenia and the Slovak Republic.

Most high performers from independents and grammar schools

The Sutton Trust compared the performance of the highest achieving 15 year-olds internationally  and found that England ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. It also found that most of England’s high performers come from independent and grammar schools, with ‘almost no pupils’ achieving top levels from non-selective state schools.

In England only 1.7% of children reached the highest level in maths, compared with 7.8% in Switzerland, 5.8% in Belgium and a 3.1% OECD average.


Bleak global picture

But the report says taking a wider world view makes the picture in England even bleaker; a massive 26.6% of pupils achieved the highest level in Shanghai; 15.6% in Singapore – a country whose exam system was recently hailed by education secretary Michael Gove – and 10.8% in Hong Kong. And maths in most countries is compulsory to the age of 18 except in England, where almost 90% of students drop the subject after GCSE – so comparisons at the age of 18 would look far worse than the already worryingly poor performance at 15.

The report suggests that poor performance is a result of successive programmes which fail to stretch the most able children, and the term ‘gifted and talented’ is a flawed description that’s ‘too broad to be a construct to be the basis of sensible policy’. Chairman of the Trust, Sir Peter Lampl, calls for proposals to pilot projects supporting and stretching the highly able in non-selective state schools, with successful schemes to be rolled out in many more schools.

Quoted in The Independent, Michael Gove said that the report underlined why the government is “determined to act decisively to restore academic rigour to schools and ensure our exams match the world’s best”.

Comment from the forums

Commenting on the report on the LinkedIn UK Education group, Roy van den Brink-Budgen said: “I have worked with both teachers and students in Singapore and it never surprises me that this country ranks so highly in education league tables. There is a huge emphasis upon the value of achievement, a value that is very much shared and thus reinforced by parents.”

Barbara Edwards, another member of the group, said: “Bright kids have been kicking their heels around for the first three years of secondary for some time although I also think they dropped the Key Stage 3 tests because they were above GCSE and involved more lateral thinking and problem solving. In other words things have got worse.”

Download the full report from the Sutton Trust as a PDF (723kb)

Read the rest of the comments on the LinkedIn discussion

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