Every year, we go through a familiar cycle. Exam results come out, and they are usually better than the previous year’s. The government hails them as an example of increasing standards. The opposition pooh-poohs them as an example of easier exams.
So who is right? Certainly in the national conciousness, the apparent view is that the Tories are right. But is this view backed up by the facts, or is it just a collective set of prejudices based on tabloidism and nostalgia?
Well, the US based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement has report that comes out every four years – The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss). The latest report covering 2007 has just come out, and it compares 60 countries around the world for 10 and 14 year old students’ ability and the standards used.
So where is England?
In the top ten for both science and Maths for both age-levels, ranging between at 5th and 7th places. Above Germany, Sweden and the US in each case. The top five are dominated by Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, with Latvia, Russia and South Korea doing well.
Was this better than last time?
Yes. Last time (2003) England came 18th for Maths at age 14. This time England came 7th. What is more, the previous years were even worse – in 1999 we cam 20th and in 1995 we came 25th. So clearly there is a trend of improvement over the past 12 years, accelerated in recent years.
But guess what, the Tories are claiming that it’s still a failure. That’s right, we’ve moved up from ‘mid table mediocrity’ under the Major government to the top ten, and Michael Gove calls us ‘Second Division’. Just as with the economy, the Tories will talk down the country in order to attack the government.
(hat tip: Bob Piper)