England's schools succeed in problem-solving test

Problem solving Problem-solving tests examined how pupils could apply their knowledge

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England's teenagers are "significantly above average" in problem-solving skills, according to the results of international tests.

After many disappointments in international school tests, these latest global rankings from the OECD put England in 11th place.

The OECD puts England as second highest in Europe, behind Finland, in tests of how pupils can apply their knowledge.

Singapore and South Korea were top in tests taken by 15-year-olds.

These problem-solving tests were taken at the same time as the Pisa tests, which compare how well pupils perform in maths, reading and science.

Job market

Rather than testing theoretical knowledge, the problem-solving tests examined how well teenagers could use their knowledge in practical questions.

For example, it presented pupils with a range of information about different types of train tickets and asked them to work out the cheapest price for a journey.

Start Quote

Good problem solving skills give young people an edge in the world of work”

End Quote Brian Lightman ASCL general secretary

These problem-solving tests were an optional extra following the Pisa tests taken in 2012 - and were taken by 44 out of the 65 countries and administrations in the Pisa rankings.

About 85,000 pupils took these tests, as a sample representing 19 million 15-year-olds. In England, the sample was based on 137 schools.

It found that pupils in England were much better than their performance in Pisa tests, where they failed to make the top 20 in any subject.

The OECD's Michael Davidson suggested that Asian countries were particularly strong at learning information, but it seemed that pupils in England were above average at how this information was creatively applied.

The top performers remained Asian countries and education systems - but the Chinese city of Shanghai, which had been the top performer in Pisa tests, is ranked sixth in these more practical tests.

China does not compete as a whole country, but some of its cities and regions participate separately.

England's pupils' performance puts them above countries such as Germany, the United States and Sweden.

These problem-solving skills were going to be essential for the future job chances of young people, said the OECD's Francesco Avvisati.

Core knowledge

Across the countries and cities taking part, boys were more likely to be among the top performers. But in England, there was no significant gender difference.

Singapore skyline Singapore had the highest results in problem solving

There were also big regional differences. Northern Italy had some of the best results in the world, while schools in southern Italy were far below average.

Colombia, Bulgaria and Uruguay had the lowest results.

Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman described the results as "excellent news".

"Graduates need core knowledge in subjects like maths and English, but they also need to be able to apply this to tackle complex and unpredictable tasks with confidence," said Mr Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

"Good problem-solving skills give young people an edge in the world of work and prepare them to move into top jobs and leadership positions."

A Department for Education spokesman said the test results showed the strength in problem solving.

"But they also confirm that generally those who perform best in maths, reading and science - Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and South Korea - are also those who do best in problem solving.

"This connection between the core subjects and problem solving underlines why we are focusing on the basics in the rigorous new primary curriculum, and why reformed GCSEs and A-levels will have open-ended questions which encourage lateral thinking."

Problem solving test top 20

Source: OECD

1. Singapore

2. South Korea

3. Japan

4. Macau (China)

5. Hong Kong (China)

6. Shanghai (China)

7. Taiwan

8. Canada

9. Australia

10. Finland

11. England

12. Estonia

13. France

14. Netherlands

15. Italy

16. Czech Republic

17. Germany

18. United States

19. Belgium

20. Austria


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  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    285.Emperor Wibble
    4 Minutes ago
    "234.Joe blogs
    Five apples are in a basket. How do you divide them among five people so that each person gets an apple, but one remains in the basket?"

    The socialist solution is to promise everyone they can have an apple, but then relaise that they have to be paid for. They scrimp to pay for one for the basket, promising more will come, but they never do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    I guess this why my organization had to spend a large amount of time and money on providing remedial numeracy and literacy for many of our graduate staff. Bring back the Grammar Schools !
    Is the word 'is' missing in the first line?

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    280. SurvivalOfTheFickest
    Since when does being No.11 in 20 equate to "suceed"?

    I guess that solves the problem of education in England? lol

    LOL indeed. I presume you went to school in England (I didn't) because the table is the TOP TWENTY not the whole survey. There's about 160 countries in the world. You may note Colombia, Bulgaria and Uruguay (bottom 3 in article) aren't on the table

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    I guess this why my organization had to spend a large amount of time and money on providing remedial numeracy and literacy for many of our graduate staff. Bring back the Grammar Schools !

  • Comment number 289.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    We English cannot be insulted on grounds of race because of our innate sense of superiority. We couldn't care less what foreigners think about us.

    Perhaps you're not English?

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    "England's schools succeed in problem-solving test"
    If you notice we are 11th in the table, come back to me and say that when we're 5th or higher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Problem solving is not perceived as cool and many people are proud to admit to being useless at maths. This combined with the fact that technicians and mechanics are routinely referred to as engineers devalues the status of true engineers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    234.Joe blogs
    Five apples are in a basket. How do you divide them among five people so that each person gets an apple, but one remains in the basket?
    Give 4 3/4 apples to the richest person and 1/4 to the poorest. Then scream at the other 3 people "Look at that poor person! He's taking a quarter of your apple!". Describe the basket as a relic of the Labour government. [Daily Mail solution]

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    They need to be good at problem solving. The state education system, that moving target and continuous victim of experiment, is in such a bad way that it's to the credit of pupils that they're able to solve the problem of its shortfalls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    @266 Joe blogs

    The way I saw it was, the book costs £1. Plus half the price of the book.

    Here is your £1.

    Now I have to pay you half the price of the book.

    How much is that? Insert any figure to get correct answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    The UK might be fabulous at producing problem solvers. Alas, it is even better at producing bean counters and bankers who do not rate problem solvers and want everything made in Asian sweat shops on the grounds of cost.
    Engineers are badly paid and undervalued - accountants and bankers are paid a fortune and are more or less useless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    "The questioner seems to think that cost and price are one and the same when they actually refer to different things."

    It is not big or clever to be pedantic. Everyone knows what the question is asking and the answer is £2 and only £2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Since when does being No.11 in 20 equate to "suceed"?

    I guess that solves the problem of education in England? lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.


    What a racist and offensive remark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    As an adult trainer I noted that our Brit engineers were far more adaptable than most other nationalities, including the Asian engineers. I suspect our showing in this test is damped by poor basics, such as literacy and numeracy.

    We need balance in our education system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    If they have very little factual knowledge and do so badly in tests involving it, how are they solving these problems? Intelligence? Guesswork? Native wit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    @259 - Ceiswyn

    That is indeed true :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    That is a fairy tale . English students are lazy as many in rich countries .

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    @262 Mark
    There is only one answer for the cost of the book,it's basic algebra.
    Look. Cost of book = £1 plus half cost of book
    Now subtract half cost of book from both sides to give you
    Half cost of book = £1
    Your answer that the book could cost £4 is wrong
    It would mean that £4= £1 plus £2 which it clearly isn't. There is not an infinite solution set.Hope this helps.


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