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 253.

    There are some very good and successful state primary and secondary schools with large proportions of pupils from deprived backgrounds. These schools have a lot of the answers to the question of how to improve our state schools. Some state schools in middle class areas can get very good results without trying- they just rely on the parents to help their children and arrange additional tuition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Well of course the UK is going to do well in results and rubbish in fairness - we must have some of the best schools in the world and don't they just cost that much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    "In America, your success (or lack of it) is largely of your own making,"
    This is highly irrational.
    The shape of the economic pyramid is pretty inflexible. The argument that everyone can scrabble to the top of it is fundamentally flawed. It could only be advanced in all seriousness by somebody out to pull a fast one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    20. Rivers38

    "I can tell you that ambition to succeed has more to do with your parents than your school"

    164. Rivers38
    1 HOUR AGO

    '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'


    For how many of your 38 years did you teach 25% was 'far more' than 25%?

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.


    I don't disagree; I'm saying that kids in America see achievement as something to be respected.

    In America, your success (or lack of it) is largely of your own making, so well off parents know education is the key to success and push their kids to work at it. No different to the UK in that sense.

    What's different is how those motivated kids are seen and treated by their peers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Hardly surprising as the UK is weak in general fairness rankings not just schools.
    However this is where the unfairness starts and general indoctrination continues from.
    Without a good start children from poorer backgrounds have little hope particularly if their parents care little for education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    190. penguin337
    Private schools are the foundation stones of an unequal society"

    How is this so?

    Surely the aim should be to get state schools to the standard of private schools, so that ALL students will benefit.

    You seem to be in favour of getting rid of private schools because it's unfair that they are so good...

    That's just jealousy, not good logic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    I would like to know if the researchers came to Scotland? Two different systems, could have two different results. It would be good to see if free uni fees makes a difference. Note to researchers and the BBC, there is no such thing as a UK education system and never has been. Not nationalistic nonsense but historical fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    222. Reader135

    You continue to demonstrate your own utter ignorance. Your belief that the concept of 'learning disability' is a figment of someone's imagination is flawed. However if you want to continue in the misguided notion that you alone are right and the paediatricians and educational psychologists are wrong then that's your prerogative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    I am a foreign born UK national. I attended: 1 Roman Catholic, 2 very rough London comprehensives, 1 rural comprehensive, and 1 private school (scholarship). Except in the latter case, I was bullied and beaten up by just about everyone for being good academically. In every other country, I would have been revered. What a messed up attitude. 100% the parents fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    222. reader135

    are you a teacher?are you a child psychologist? do you even work in an education setting?i see your point that we should not label kids who struggle at school "educationally disabled" but the fact is some children just cant pick things up!! how is that the teachers fault?!since you are so smart, please tell us,what would be your solution to this issue which you have a problem with?

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    223 "the Charities Comission saying yet again the sector should not be treated as a charity"

    It did not say this! It said independent schools had to pay more attention to meeting the object as set out in its deed. For your info vast no. of schools in independent sector are not Eton; most are small to medium institutions whose children come from middle class backgrounds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    234. samb-1488 - and your point is . . .?

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Having read the article, I can only conclude that we need more social segregation in schools.

    Under-performers cannot keep up, average are comfortable and brighter pupils are held back.

    So why don't we segregate the three and provide more meaningful and appropriate education?

    Social Services have responsibility for providing 'social ladders' not educational establishments.

    Each to their own

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    This failure is the main cause of dependency!

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    222 Reader135

    '1 in 5 11 yr olds are not able to read'
    You mean didn't reach the expected level for 11 year olds, which isn't the same thing. 2012 that figure was 13%. The KS2 test set out that which pupils need to be able to 'do and understand' to progress at secondary. The 13% includes all those children who have such severe special needs that they never even take the test. Nice try.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    We as a Country (UK) are years behind the standards of education in the like of the following Countries Shanghai, Hong Kong, Finland, South Korea. If you wish to firmly point the finger of blame at anybody you have to blame the Teachers of today

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.


    It's obvious that if you select pupils and spend more money on them, you will get better results.
    I'm not sure what assumption you think I'm making.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    225. Anglerfish
    >>make assumptions about quality based solely on outcomes
    What do the surveys you are so fond of compare then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.



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