UK education sixth in global ranking

Praying for exam results in South Korea Parents in South Korea, earlier this month, pray for their children's exam results

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The UK's education system is ranked sixth best in the developed world, according to a global league table published by education firm Pearson.

The first and second places are taken by Finland and South Korea.

The rankings combine international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010.

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson's chief education adviser, says successful countries give teachers a high status and have a "culture" of education.

International comparisons in education have become increasingly significant - and this latest league table is based upon a series of global test results combined with measures of education systems, such as how many people go on to university.

This composite picture puts the UK in a stronger position than the influential Pisa tests from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - which is also one of the tests included in this ranking.

The weightings for the rankings have been produced for Pearson by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Global competition

The two education superpowers - Finland and South Korea - are followed by three other high-performing Asian education systems - Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.


  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Russia

The UK - which is considered as a single system, rather than four devolved administrations - is then ranked at the head of an above-average group including the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland.

These are ahead of a middle-ranking group including the United States, Germany and France.

At the lowest end are Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia.

These comparisons draw upon tests that are taken every three or four years, in areas such as maths, science and literacy - and so present a picture lagging by several years.

But the intention is to provide a more multi-dimensional view of educational achievement - and create a databank which will be updated, in a project that Pearson is calling the Learning Curve.

Looking at education systems that succeed, the study concludes that spending is important, but not as much as having a culture that is supportive of learning.

It says that spending is easier to measure, but the more complex impact of a society's attitude to education can make a big difference.

The success of Asian countries in these rankings reflects the high value attached to education and the expectations of parents. This can continue to be a factor when families migrate to other countries, says the report accompanying the rankings.

Looking at the two top countries - Finland and South Korea - the report says that there are many big differences, but the common factor is a shared social belief in the importance of education and its "underlying moral purpose".

Teacher quality

The report also emphasises the importance of high-quality teachers and the need to find ways to recruit the best staff. This might be about status and professional respect as well as levels of pay.

The rankings show that there is no clear link between higher relative pay and higher performance.

And there are direct economic consequences of high and low performing education systems, the study says, particularly in a globalised, skill-based economy.

But there are less straightforward and conflicting messages about how schools are organised.

The ranking for levels of school choice shows that Finland and South Korea have among the lowest levels of school choice. But Singapore, another high performer, has the highest level. The UK is among the upper levels in terms of school choice.

'Significant' data

Higher levels of school autonomy are a characteristic of many higher performing systems - headed by China, the Netherlands, the UK and Hong Kong (which is considered as a separate school system in such education rankings).

But Finland, the most successful system, has a relatively low level of school autonomy.

Sir Michael Barber, a former adviser to Tony Blair, said that the gathering of this information was the "start of something significant" - providing a practical resource for policy makers wanting to learn from other countries.

In terms of the UK's performance, he said it fitted into the view that education standards had risen at the end of the 1990s and into the early 2000s and had then levelled off.

Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg said the findings reflected the achievements of the previous government.

"This report shows that after 13 years of investment and reform with Labour, schools in the UK are amongst the best in the world."

And he said the findings did not provide evidence for the current government's support for free schools.

"This shows there is much more to school performance than structures," said Mr Twigg.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are driving up standards right across the board by bringing the best graduates into teaching, developing a world-class curriculum, and restoring order to our classrooms.

"We are driving forward the academies and free schools programmes with more than half of secondary schools now enjoying academy status.

"We have introduced the EBacc so more pupils are encouraged to study the core academic subjects that universities and employers demand and we will be introducing a new, far more rigorous examination system."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Its all well and good to give ourselves a nice pat on the back and say "Ah well, told you there was nothing wrong!" The fact is that I regularly interview graduates for a large IT corporation and the majority have multiple spelling mistakes on their CV and seem incapable of holding an intelligent conversation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Let's not forget these figures were calculated during the period 2006-2010, when we had a different government - i.e. before all the ideological cuts, and before Gove's interference.

    I doubt if we'd rank so highly now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Considering the standard of literacy & numeracy amongst some younger teachers that I know, I suspect that someone with a measure of numeracy has massaged the figures.
    Remember, there is a BIG difference between a good education & coached to pass exams so the school looks good in the league tables. Currently few kids outside of Private schools get a rounded education helpful in the job market

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says the gap in standards between authorities facing similar challenges is too wide.

    Ofsted's annual report is set to be published later on Tuesday.

    Also because of funding cuts imposed on the current councils teacher training centres are being closed and advisors who would help to raise standards are being made redundent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    This list is clearly a joke. After teaching history and science in Japan for over 10 years, I can say that Japan has absolutely no business being anywhere near the top 10. Test scores tell very little. ALL tests, countrywide, are standardised and teachers are only permitted to teach to the tests. Ask students any open-ended questions and they are lost. Education here is pathetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I finished teaching two years ago. Teaching standards are good and exam results have improved. But it still frightens me how little overall knowledge my 17 year old daughter has, now at college, taking 3 A levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Pupils get educated in spite of the teachers

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    UK has good ACCESS to education. The quality of education when you get into the classroom is patchy - teacher recruitment is not rigorous enough.

    An effective means of dealing with disruptive pupils would help.

    Gove is wasting his time tinkering - it needs sensible investment, not useless sticking plaster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    No surprise after all their students come over here to our universities then go back to teach, also some of our best teachers go to asia because they get better paid over there

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Total crap, they have poland on the list... A country where your university teacher can fail you because they dont like you. The u.s.a and australia two countries where over 10 percent of school leaver are illitarate....and japan where a fail is still classed as pass minor...

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    My God we have beaten Germany at something.
    Being a regular HYSer I had formed the opinion that they were the best country in the world, bar none, ever, without a doubt, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I am always sceptical of performance tables. What evidential criteria are used in compiling them and how can they be sure they are comparing like with like? In the case of English education I have a feeling that we are teaching children to pass exams rather than that we are educating them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    If one of the measures of this league table is how many people go to university, then I'm not surprised that the UK is in the top 10.

    But I would say that a better measure is how many of those graduates are gainfully employed in high calibre careers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Finally a report that tells the rest of the country what teachers and the teaching unions have been saying for the past two years. We don't need lots of reforms, we're already good!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    This is a testament to the work of teachers and kids who produce the goods despite interference from politicians. I am a mature student at university. The kids I meet are more intelligent than many of the CEOs, directors and managers I have worked with. Kids will learn whatever you put in front of them. The fact that politicians get to decide how they are to be taught is the real problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Comparisons, especially international ones, are always difficult and usually need to be qualified but, nonetheless, can be useful and informative. I note that these rankings ‘combine international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010.’ Hence, I would hate to see the present Government seeking to take any credit for the UK’s relative success.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Sixth in the world yet we still produce under achieving children (especially white working class boys). I don't doubt that schools in middle class areas and the private sector are not world class but the report does reflect the failing schools in the poor areas and kitchen sink estates up and down the UK. Or don't those kids matter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Mr Gove tells us that kids are daft, teachers useless, exams a doddle and that schools must become academies/free - but under his control - if we are to be saved. Turns out he was fibbing and that UK education is very good. This is not because of his changes, though. His changes will take us backwards as awkward kids are thrown out of academies and the curriculum shrinks with EBac.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    3. wirral18

    There's no need for a question mark at the end of your first sentence as it's a statement not a question.

    You may not be thick but it's another instance of today's low educational standards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Virtually all the countries in the top 10 are homogenous societies, unencumbered by "multiculturalism" & "diversity".

    Perhaps this is just an unrelated correlation. Perhaps not...


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