UK among world’s worst for ‘teaching to the test’, research finds

UK schools are among the worst in the developed world for “teaching to the test”, a new analysis of the effect of income inequality on education suggests.

According to the study by researchers at the University of Oxford, Britain and the US are the worst culprits for educating students just to pass an exam. The statistics were taken from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings and the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), both of which are administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The results show that while UK 15-year-olds are close to average for maths, literacy and problem-solving, performance drops significantly among 16- to 24-year-olds.

This suggests that learning ahead of exams has been superficial.

The research looks into the correlation between a country’s economic inequality and its scores in international tests. The findings suggest that the greater the gap between rich and poor, the higher the chance of young people forgetting what they have learned.

Lead researcher Professor Danny Dorling said that in more competitive societies, exam results mattered “far more”, so there was more pressure to achieve certain grades.

The study looked at the 25 wealthiest countries in the OECD, and compared the maths, literacy and problem-solving scores of 15-year-olds with those of 16- to 24-year-olds.

According to Professor Dorling, a social geographer, the findings suggest that UK schools focus on short-term knowledge acquisition to help pupils to pass tests, and this knowledge is then quickly forgotten.

“In more competitive societies, such as the US and UK, exam results matter far more,” he told TES. “In both these countries people try to maximise exam results because young people are entering a labour market where they are going to be paid enormous differences between the minimum wage and the top end.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This government has reduced the number of tests children take – for example, by scrapping modules and January assessments as part of our reforms to GCSEs and A-levels – and is making sure they are only tested when they are truly ready.”

This is an edited version of an article from the 18 December edition of TES. To read the full article click here (free to subscribers). Also, this week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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