England's schools 'letting future maths stars down'

GCSE exam England was out-performed by most countries at higher level maths

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England is neglecting its brightest children, leaving them lagging far behind their peers overseas in top level maths scores, a report says.

The Sutton Trust study shows teenagers in England are half as likely as those in the average developed nation to reach higher levels in maths.

Brighter pupils are more likely to go to private or grammar schools rather than other state schools, it adds.

The government said it wanted to "restore academic rigour" to schools.

Researchers at the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University examined the proportions of pupils achieving the highest levels in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tests.

'Deeply troubling'

The PISA tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) compare the performance of pupils in different countries in subjects such as reading and maths. The latest results date back to 2009.

The report found that just 1.7% of England's 15-year-olds reached the highest level, Level 6, in maths, compared with an OECD average of 3.1%.

In Switzerland and Korea, 7.8% of pupils reached this level.

Overall, England ranked 26th out of 34 OECD countries for the proportion of pupils reaching the top level in maths, behind other nations like Slovenia (3.9%), the Slovak Republic (3.6%) France (3.3%) and the Czech Republic (3.2%), which were among those scoring around the OECD average.

Start Quote

These figures show that few bright non-privileged students reach their academic potential - which is unfair and a tragedy ”

End Quote Sir Peter Lampl Sutton Trust

The report adds that the situation looks worse for England when a wider global comparison is used.

Singapore, which is not part of the OECD table analysed, saw 15.6% of its students score the top level, while in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which were also not part of the OECD table, 10.8% and 26.6% respectively got the top level.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "This is a deeply troubling picture for any us who care about our brightest pupils from non-privileged backgrounds."

The study also suggests that comparing the maths results of 18-year-olds would be even more stark because 90% of English pupils drop the subject after GCSE.

Whereas in many other countries, maths is compulsory up to the age of 18.

The report argues that England is falling down international tables because of successive failures to help the most able pupils.

It calls for bright children to be identified at the end of primary school, with their achievements and progress tracked from then on.

'Profound concerns'

It says there should also be tougher questions in exams to allow bright youngsters to stretch themselves and show their abilities.

Sir Peter said: "These are shocking findings that raise profound concerns about how well we support our most academically-able pupils, from non-privileged backgrounds.

"Excellence in maths is crucial in so many areas such as science, engineering, IT, economics and finance. These figures show that few bright non-privileged students reach their academic potential - which is unfair and a tragedy for them and the country as a whole."

Report author Prof Alan Smithers said recent education policy for the brightest had been a mess.

"The government should signal to schools the importance of educating the brightest through how it holds the schools to account.

"At present the accountability measures are pitched at the weakest and middling performers," he added.

Education Secretary Michael Gove added: "We already knew that under Labour we plummeted down the international league tables in maths.

"Now we see further evidence that they betrayed bright children from poor backgrounds and - worst of all - that their policies drove talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds away from the subjects that employers and universities value most."

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: "Results for all pupils, including the brightest, improved under Labour.

"While there are always improvements that could be made, gifted and talented pupils were stretched through a National Academy, targeted scholarships and a new A* grade at A-level.

"While we want to see bright pupils stretched, this can't be at the expense of leaving some behind. Michael Gove's plans will create a two tier exam system, which will do nothing to help all pupils make the most of their potential."

Nasuwt teaching union head Chris Keates said the tests used to draw the comparisons, and the way children prepare for them, differed between countries.

"Their conclusions raise more questions than they answer. They are not comparing like with like.

"The education systems are different. The pupils taking the tests are selected differently. Some countries do nothing but prepare for the tests for months. Some, like Shanghai may not enter a pupil sample generally reflective of the student population and use crammer sessions to prepare."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    839. TheBladesman
    We are questioning whether it is a real 'syndrome' or one that has been imagined up. educational psychiatrists have to justify their existence
    I have dyspraxia and dyslexia, my life would have been a whole lot easier if we had ed. psychiatrists at my school to pick it up instead of finding out as a mature student at 30 about the first and self diagnosing the second in 40's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    It is not the schools or the teaching. The damage is from tiered exams, competition between boards and scoring for 'good GCSEs'=A*-C which targets the borderline cases as getting from D to C is more valuable than getting from A to A*.

    Score points for A level and GCSE by the actual grades (double bonus for A*), use one specialist maths board and remove tiering for GCSE.

    £1million fee please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    The British public do not need studies to tell them that the situation is so bad.
    I am having to deregister my child from school to home school. He has not even completed Year1 and is at least 2 years ahead of his peers in Maths, Science and Reading. He is bored and the school is unable to cater to his intellectual needs.
    Schools just pay lip service for having gifted and talented programs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.


    You really need a lesson in comprehension, unfortunately, I'm a little late to give you one so you'll just have to make do with the skills you require now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    Because we round down all the time, because it's fair and jealously wins. And it is one of the deadly sins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    848-Not a genius, a few points off being considered to be one. I don’t think dyslexia is caused by brain damage. Many think could be genetic, maybe that’s why rather than University (this generation the exception) my family paved their way as engineers for the RAF then NATO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    My son is in year 8 and his homework, more often than not involves drawing pictures or designing posters and often seems to be overtly political. A classic was when his "Science" homework was to draw his dream car. Apart from the odd selective schools, I think teachers at state have given up the idea of educating kids and are only interested in creating politically correct adults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    The government is to be blamed not the schools, if the class is formed of 30 pupils, one teacher and one assistant how the teacher can pay attention to individual bearing in mind the assistant is there for the SEN pupils. It is really shame. Our children are our future, therefore, we should invest in our future and spend tax payers money wisely

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.


    So a theoretical syndrome applicable to people with brain-damage in the 1940s is now applied to children unable to grasp basic arithmetic.

    I don't always agree with what psychiatrists claim. Perhaps you should also question what you read - not everything you are told is true.


    Are you a genius or brain-damaged (according to Golgotha)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.


    "Whats the difference between them and true ''dyscalculia'?"

    I just told you, the difference is that some just have trouble grasping certain principles whilst dyscalculia is due to an abnormality, this could be due to damage, problems during development, biochemical or electrical abnormalities et cetra and so on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    Perhaps dyslexia is made up also, tests account for someone with Low IQ and assess if an individual is dyslexic or stupid. Imagine the same is done for Dyscalculia. I spent my life being told I was stupid only to find out when tested my IQ is nr genius. My 1st class degree will prove them wrong. Do not discount special needs, many with Asperger’s are gifted in maths, just lack social skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    Many people 'can't add up' or are 'useless with numbers' on their own admission.

    Whats the difference between them and true ''dyscalculia'?

    Its just another made-up syndrome to justify some childrens inability to recognise and process numbers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    I can think of no greater damage to the standards of education in this country that the policies perpetrated by Labour and teacher unions over 60 years.

    Education, benefits, and immigration, dumb-down, bribe, and ghettoise the lower classes. This is what the Left have bequeathed this nation.

    You've got to hand it to them they know how to corale their target audience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.


    "We are questioning whether it is a real 'syndrome' or one that has been imagined up recently. I guess these educational psychiatrists have to justify their existence somehow."

    It is not a term that has been, "imagined up recently". It has been in use since the late 40's to identify people who had trouble grasping Arithmetics after damage to certain areas of the brain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    Schools aren't interested in the brightest kids, nor those that aren't going to achieve a grade C. They only focus on students who have the potential to get a grade C in 5 subjects, because it makes their league table results look better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.


    "Is it a made-up syndrome/disorder to excuse someone who is crap at maths or a way for schools to claim extra funding?"

    [Sigh] No it is not a "made-up syndrome/disorder" it is a very real and and physical thing due to a abnormality in the Brain. Also there is a difference between "Maths" and "Arithmatics" that you should acquaint yourself with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    Education in the UK was dealt a serious blow during the Thatcher years. The media pointed out that we could decide to take one of two paths. Take a path similar to Germany where the highest qualifications were essential to take any job or allow employment without a set level of education. Thatcher chose the latter and since then education has been devalued.

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.

    @837.Cats Whiskers

    ''...Dyscalculia. Think of it as dyslexia with numbers!...''

    Yes we worked that out. We are questioning whether it is a real 'syndrome' or one that has been imagined up recently. I guess these educational psychiatrists have to justify their existence somehow.

    I have a disorder that fails to recognise nonsense. Its called dysbullshitia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.


    "Is that the latest medical term for "thicko" ?"

    Did you read the definition? Its a Psychiatric (not medical) term for the inability to grasp arithmatical calcualtion due to a brain disorder, so no, it's not the lastest term for "thicko".

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    Dyscalculia. Think of it as dyslexia with numbers!


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