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Thinktank underlines 'gulf' between English schools and world's best

3 min read

There is a “gulf” between the performance of England’s schools and the best in the world, a new analysis of GCSE outcomes has concluded. 

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that for England to match the best in the world, the proportion of children averaging a “strong pass” across eight subjects would have to rise by a quarter – an extra 60,000 pupils.

The thinktank singled out the difference in maths, where it said England faced an “immense challenge” to reach the heights of other countries.

To close the gap with the best the average attainment would have to rise by two-thirds of a grade, amounting to another 96,000 children achieving top grades of A* to B and 60,000 fewer pupils getting lower than a C.

The difference in performance in reading was less pronounced, with an extra 42,000 pupils needing a top grade in English and 42,000 fewer getting lower than a “strong pass” to meet the top standards internationally.

David Laws, the EPI’s executive chairman and a former education minister, said the Government was right to redefine a “strong pass” as a grade 5 on the new scale of 9-1, rather than a C under the old system.

“This analysis highlights the gulf between education outcomes in England and the performance of the world's best education nations,” he said.

“In certain subjects, such as maths, England needs both to significantly raise the number of top performers and almost halve the number of low performers if it is to compete with the world's best.”

The EPI also looked at regional discrepancies and concluded that outcomes from London’s schools were better, with 45% averaging the “strong pass” benchmark across eight subjects, while in other parts of the country less than a third met that threshold.

While Scottish and Northern Irish schools lagged “just behind” England in maths and reading performance, Mr Laws drew attention to the “shockingly bad” outcomes of Welsh schools.  

For Wales to meet world-leading standards in maths, the proportion of pupils getting a top grade would have to rise by more than a half and the proportion getting less than a C on current standards would need to reduce by 50%.  

The Department for Education said its reforms were "raising standards" across the school system. 

“There are now 1.8 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. This report underlines the importance of our reforms in creating new gold-standard GCSEs, benchmarked against the best education systems in the world.

“Over the last six years we have incorporated the best features of successful curricula and qualifications from the around the world into our education system and signalled our intent to continue raising standards with the introduction of a standard and strong pass at GCSE.

"This is complemented by our ongoing investment in apprenticeships and the technical education system. We will continue to work with the teaching profession to ensure there is no limit on any child’s potential.”

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