UK weak in school fairness rankings

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

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    I work for an online tutoring support organisation and the interesting thing is that many of those who do not have English as a first language are very keen to gain the most from education. However, we have a class of people in UK where the parents don't care about education, and thus their children follow suit. You cannot help those who think it's smart to be ignorant!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    165 Ian. There's me thinking that the left liked diversity. When the late Jade Goody declared East Anglia was a foreign country I felt that the Education system had become somewhat askew. Caring is NOT a political colour it is a human condition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    @157 I am not a teacher, I do however have a degree from a time when they were worth something. It isn't your fault, the system has let you down you are the product of an age where passing exams at all costs was the most important thing. the result is now we have swathes of society neglected because they couldn't pass anything and those that could "pass" can't even spell. And Australia...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    If you want to look to a model that works look to Denmark & Sweden. Break the state monopoly and the power of the teaching unions. Enable a diverse broad range of educational solutions at primary & secondary levels. Empower parents as consumers through vouchers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    142.whatyousay - Your post says it all. You have a degree but you don't understand how to punctuate, capitalise, structure sentences or spell correctly. You are a shining example of our worthless and dumbed down education system. Thirty years ago, you would have probably crashed out of the education system with a grade 'E' English 'O' Level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Well blow me! The UK found to be wanting in fairness !? I am amazed! Isn’t this what we want? Are we not bemoaning the 'dumbing down' of standards? Are we not screaming out for exams to be made more rigorous?, to weed out the 'undeserving'? Do we not have too many of our kids going on to University, 'diluting' the value of a qualification? Our kids, all of them, deserve better than this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.


    Sorry but TIMMS and PIRLS are internationally accredited, long standing, measures of academic outcomes. Pearson is, agreed, a new one but it is fully peer reviewed. But to be honest if someone mentions surveys which don't support your view and the best you can do is come up with spurious drivel to try and rubbish them then there's no point in commenting.

    162 Rascoe

    Grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    My children attend two different local State Secondary Schools. Both schools have improved markedly over the last 12 years and send students on to the best further education institutions including Oxbridge. Both schools draw students from a full range of social backgrounds and while it can be tough at times, all students are being educated in real life....what a priviledge!

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    x15 perhaps overlooks that people who want to teach generally are among the more caring people and tend to vote lib/lab. Those of us who understand the economic hole we are in and believe that any government would have to cut public spending may despair of the wooly well meaning left, but we should still respect them for what they do. I was an engineer - but I would have made a lousy teacher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    66. RogerBMellie
    "Never the teachers is it?"

    Oxford University research has shown that a child's success is down to 50% from the child itself, 25% from the parents and 25% from their teachers. I didn't say schools had no part to play, just that parents have a responsibility too, which too many fail to deliver. Try teaching for even just one term and you will find this out for yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    How about this? Materially successful people are usually intelligent; intelligent people have intelligent children: Intelligent children do better at school. It's genetics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    #66 RogerBMellie sums it up perfectly !

    Those who can't teach !

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Some of you seem to believe that our schools were wonderful under Labour and are a million times worse under the coalition.

    Not true!

    Rather than fighting his wars Blair should have sorted out our education system. And the money spent on those wars would have been very welcome in our Schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    The education system in England simply reflects its society. The issue is far bigger than the current education secretary. Until England starts to believe that ALL children have a fundamental right to good quality education there will be no improvement. Finnish society embodies this belief and has NO private education. Finland appears at or near the top of every survey. It's cultural.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Good universal education is a must. But British governments, even Labor-led ones seem content to retain segregation. Look at the last famous PM that didn't attend a posh private (Ouch! they call them "public" in the UK) school - Margaret Thatcher, and even she went about zealously demolishing whatever little was left of state schools! At least Labor should stop filling its ranks with EPP grads!

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Perhaps if education was about more than knocking out children that can get into university that would be a start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    @148, hahahaha, that was because you were the teacher and that is what is wrong with the UK system, go back to Australia dumb dumb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    146. Anglerfish
    All these surveys are just that. Where do they get the data? From official sources? Directly from schools? Carry out selective tests? None of that is conclusive due to different systems, level of corruption etc in different countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    If schools didn't close as soon as the first snowflake hits the ground then perhaps the results would be better ?
    Also having too many holidays & inset days doesn't help.
    Then you've got all those pupils whose second language is English.
    No wonder this country's in a mess !

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    139. Commentator
    "How can you teach children to become adults when you are not living in an adult world?"
    Since you are so qualified for living in the "real world" why don't you take up a post in teaching!After all you would want the future generation to perform well wouldn't you?didn't realize that being a teacher, owning your own home&car, raising children and teaching 25+ kids was "not real"


Page 14 of 22


More Education & Family stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.