The OECD released a report this week on education standards. It makes for grim reading: we’re bottom of the class. Those aged 16-24 in England came 22nd of 24 for literacy, and 21st for numeracy. We’re behind almost every other advanced nation in the world.
What’s gone wrong? There’s a clue in the different scores by age. Young people who had pretty much their entire education under the last Labour government do worse than most older generations.
The clear problem – is a decade of dumbing down led by Labour and supported wholeheartedly by the teaching unions. They made qualifications in cake decorating ‘equivalent’ to physics GCSE. They allowed calculators in primary maths tests. They broke up GCSEs into bite sized modules ensuring a constant treadmill of exams. They allowed our exams to get easier and easier. They even tried to abolish proper subjects and replace them with ‘learning themes’.
We’re taking action to clear up this mess. One thing that the high-performing countries have in common is that pupils keep doing essential subjects until they leave school – especially maths. In Japan, 85 per cent of 17 year-olds study maths. In Hong Kong, it’s 95 per cent. In Singapore, it’s 66 per cent.
In England, it’s just 20 per cent, even though maths commands the highest earnings premium of any subject. That’s why today, we announced a new Core Maths programme for over-16s.
We have already made sure that those who didn’t pass GCSE will carry on until they get a C and that A level students will face a new, more rigorous curriculum.
But for the 40 per cent of students who achieve at least a C but don’t want to do A Level – there has not been a credible qualification. Less than one percent of those with a C grade go on to do A Level Maths. These students end up losing confidence in a subject that will be vital for their future careers.
We are changing this by introducing Core Maths qualifications. The respected International Baccalaureate organisation will be making their Core Maths qualification available for online teaching across the country from September 2015. Further courses designed by maths experts will mean that every pupil can carry on studying, to the highest standard they can achieve – right up to age 18. Schools will be held to account through a new ‘Maths measure’ in the 16-18 performance tables.
Our reforms learn from those of other countries. After dire OECD results in 2000, where they placed behind England, Germany dived into a period of national introspection. They had thundering editorials, parliamentary debates – and even a TV quiz show where contestants tried to answer the offending test questions.
They pursued bold reform in response. They focussed pupils on an academic core, increased teacher quality, and introduced proper national standards. Germany’s performance has risen since. As today’s results make plain, they are well ahead of us.
So we’re reforming fast to catch up. Yet the people who caused this problem in the first place – Labour and the unions – attack us for doing so. Germany was shocked out of complacency. The complacency of some in this country is shocking. Today’s report should see an end to that.
Elizabeth Truss is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and ChildcareTags: Core Maths, Education, Labour, UK politics, Unions