Why England doesn’t measure up against a world-class education system

The thinkthank CentreForum has set out what it believes equals a “world-class” education and found that England isn’t making the grade

More than 60 per cent of secondary pupils, and 40 per cent of primary, fail to match their counterparts in the highest performing education systems in the world, according to a report released today.

The first education annual report from thinktank CentreForum shows that while improvement has been made in England’s schools, the country still has a way to go if it wants to compete with the top performing countries in international rankings.

Here’s what the report says:

1. England’s secondary students are not world class

According to the thinktank, the highest performing jurisdictions – according to the Programme for International Student Assessment – such as Finland, Hong Kong and Canada have an average performance of eight B grades at GCSE. CentreForum is calling for at least 75 per cent of secondary school students in England to hit the target – the equivalent of 50 points under the new Attainment 8 grading scheme – by 2030. Currently, just 38 per cent of secondary students would meet the threshold.

2. Primary pupils are not world class either

Performance among primary pupils is better overall, but the report states that if young people are to meet the new secondary benchmark, the attainment at primary level will have to increase too. The report is calling for 85 per cent of pupils reaching Level 4b+ (or its equivalent) by 2025. Currently, just 58.5 per cent of pupils achieve this.

3. Meeting these targets will be a “massive challenge”

Despite improvements in both progress and attainment among schools, the new, more challenging primary and secondary assessments will dramatically affect schools’ ability to meet these benchmarks. The thinktank is repeating its prediction that the proportion of students gaining a “good pass” – or Grade 5 – in English and maths GCSEs will drop “significantly” by around 23 percentage points from 58 per cent to 35 per cent. David Laws, CentreForum’s executive chairman and a former schools minister, said it posed a “massive challenge” for schools.

4. London versus the rest

While there is a distinct North/South divide when it comes to secondary schools achieving this world-class benchmark, in reality it is London that outperforms the rest of the country. The analysis shows that 44 per cent of secondary pupils in the capital reach the target, whereas only a third in the East Midlands do. Nearly all of the top performing local authorities are in London or the Home Counties.

5. Poor students with English as an additional language (EAL) perform against the odds

Students in receipt of free school meals who have English as an additional language are less adversely affected by poverty than their peers who speak English as their mother tongue, according to the report. EAL students who were given free school meals for the entirety of their school lives perform an entire grade better than their non-EAL counterparts at GCSE, the report says. Overall, pupils with EAL gain better results than those with English as their mother tongue; as TES first revealed in 2012.

6. White British pupils continue to be left behind

Despite being in the top three ethnic groups when it comes to meeting the Early Years benchmark, white British pupils fall away significantly during primary and secondary school. By the time they take their GCSEs they are overtaken by 10 other ethnic groups. In contrast, students of Chinese origin go the other way, starting around the seventh-best achieving ethnic group at age 5, but move to the highest performing group by 16. Students classed as Chinese are twice as likely to gain 50 points at Attainment 8 than their white British counterparts.

7. Gap between the rich and poor remains ‘significant’

CentreForum’s report states that four out of five disadvantaged secondary students would fail to meet the new world-class benchmark, while nearly half of such primary pupils would fail to meet target. The study says that there are 569 secondary schools where 90 per cent of their disadvantaged students fail to meet the benchmark.

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