UK weak in school fairness rankings

University entrance test in China University entrance test: China's cities have more equitable school systems

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The UK is below average in an international comparison of social mobility within school systems.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) produces rankings of school performance - but it has now published an analysis of fair opportunities for pupils.

It shows that Shanghai in China, South Korea and Finland are among top performers in both results and equity.

The UK is successful in results, but weaker in fairness.

This OECD study compares the reading skills of teenagers against the levels of social equity.

Breaking the cycle

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests published by the OECD show a strong link between social disadvantage and low achievement in school.

"On average across OECD countries, disadvantaged students are twice as likely to be among the poorest performers in reading compared to advantaged students," says the report, based on an analysis of tests taken in 2009.

But this study says there is nothing inevitable about this connection between social background and achievement.


  • Shanghai
  • Hong Kong
  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Iceland
  • Estonia
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Liechtenstein
  • Taiwan
  • Italy
  • Ireland

Source: OECD. School systems with above average results in reading and higher equity levels

At the top end of the international spectrum, Shanghai, Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and the Netherlands are among a select group of school systems with very high results and high levels of fairness, where pupils can succeed regardless of background.

Russia, Spain, Croatia and the Czech Republic are relatively strong on equal opportunities, but have low performance.

Bulgaria, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan perform poorly on both equity and results.

The UK belongs to a group of countries, including France, Germany and the United States, that are above average for results, but have lower levels of equity.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's special adviser on education, says a long-term characteristic of the UK's education system has been social division - with a polarisation between the results of rich and poor pupils.

But although the UK remains less equal than the OECD average, there has been an improvement.

Mr Schleicher says this is also a major problem for other Western economies, such as France and Germany. And the big challenge is to develop education systems that no longer accept widespread underachievement among poorer pupils.

"In the past, economies and school systems could tolerate these inequalities. But the life chances are deteriorating rapidly for those without qualifications. There are more severe penalties," he says.

A report from the OECD last year found that the UK's schools were among the most socially segregated of any industrialised country.

A Department for Education source said: "This OECD analysis is based on data from 2009 and clearly shows that despite record spending Labour failed the poorest children in England.

"This is unacceptable, and it is why we are raising standards by giving teachers stronger discipline powers, tackling underperforming schools, improving exams, and attracting the brightest graduates into teaching. The pupil premium, targeted specifically at the poorest children and worth £900 per pupil in 2013-14, will help schools raise attainment."

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: "While independent research shows Labour narrowed the gap, this report shows the government are going in the wrong direction.

"The OECD says fairness means all young people gaining good skills and not dropping out early. But under this government the numbers staying on in education are down, and the number of children getting catch up tuition in the basics is falling."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    42. jo
    what? they are profitable, so what?
    they are not tax-payer funded, the kids' parents pay for the profit that the sch makes.
    You'd rather they all go state sch and add more load to the failing state sch system?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The Old Etonian Prime Minister refrained from comment. The education secretary, who attended a £10k a year private school, went on to say...

    Here's a crazy idea. Prohibit private education. All of a sudden the wealthy elite become invested in public schools. Of course you'd have to do some clever work with school catchments to ensure that natural privileged/unprivileged thing is dealt with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Ban private schools - no more inequality. That way you can't buy 'success' and priviledge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Oh good. Another emotionally charged article that will give the less open minded members of the general public - from all sides of the argument - the opportunity to make sweeping generalisations about class, site un-provable examples as proof and generally add to cacophony of unhelpful noise that prevents the rest of us actually having a rational debate on the subject. Joy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Of course it's weak in fairness, just like everything else in this country. You can work hard and still be poorer than someone drawing from the welfare system, therefore, the hard workers child may suffer more than those of parents who do nothing but leech, ie not being able to afford new uniform, having to pay for lunch, can't afford school trips etc. . . . We pay for others what ours can't have

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    18.Global Yawning
    "If two children are attending the same school, in the same classes, with the same teacher,how can it be the schools problem if one is learning and the other isn't?"
    Answer could be as simple as one is a boy, the other a girl. Maybe they don't both enjoy "Emma"?
    Sweeping generalisations are a pathetic excuse for swindling children out of their education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    10. Howesyourview - My wife works in a primary school in a poor area and the big problem is low expectations from parents, they are not interested in their childs education which makes it very difficult for teachers to raise standards eg books are sent home for the kids to read with parents which never happens

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Make haste! We must remove this movable printed type away from the pesants. We must keep this from the serfs, lest they gain literacy and threaten the landed gentry!

    What have you got there, my lord?

    Nothing! Back to your turnips!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    20. Rivers38
    Good parenting is of course crucial, but it is environment that makes all the difference. No matter how hard working the pupil is, if the rest of his school are half-criminal thugs, he won't realize his potential. It's as simple is that. Grammar schools were designed to get such children together and help them. Thanks to labour, its no longer the case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The change has to come from home - in the 1950s, the poor knew getting some O levels was the way to get out of poverty. Now people on benefits look around and see the way out is to win X factor or the lottery.

    Schools can't be blamed for this, and they can't change it either!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    ok so my post gets removed for using the term "idiot"....thanks BBC moderators.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    29 Cheddy

    Beg to differ, private schools have charitable status, which can be a very profitable dodge for the private scooling system

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Children from poor backgrounds can make a go if it, even at the worst schools, but children who go to private schools get a heck of a head start. Look at the proportion of government ministers, the judiciary, ambassadors etc who were privately educated, far more than 7%!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    24.Duke of Earl
    "It seems like you didn't read the article. Equality has been improving under the current govt. Talk about demagoguery."

    It seems somebody didn't read my response properly. Rabble rousing indeed...

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    With Gove changing the curriculum, there may be more success at the very top, but a lot more failure lower down, back to the 70s, a curriculum written for the top 20% of pupils. League tables will not value all children as vocational subjects are downgraded, forcing schools to have subjects inappropriate for many, just to survive the league table massacre.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    3 Secretbanker, why does anyone tolerate a school that does not prepare its pupils to progress?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    This news is not a surprise. Gove is deliberately making the school system unfair. He wants children to fail - his 'reforms' make sure of it.
    Also, he implements his own narrow views with no regard for the advice of education chiefs, parents, teachers, exam boards. Everything he does is anti-equality. Worse - he clothes this drive to inequality with flannel about giving every pupil a chance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    It's sad that "fairness" in education is being placed solely at the feet of schools. The attitude of parents, and how much they help & encourage their children in education - regardless of income, or what school they go to - has ALWAYS been a much bigger factor in achievement (or lack of), and always will be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Seems to pretty well sum up UK attitudes and existence on the whole, more especially the English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Income inequality is the real issue.


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