Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Don’t reduce class sizes: the OECD’s lessons for education in the UK

So much of the education debate is about how UK schools perform relative to those in other countries – this week Liz Truss reported back from her visit to Shanghai – so when MPs on the Education Select Committee grilled Andreas Schleicher, the Deputy Director of the OECD which ranks education systems worldwide, they were keen to find out what his data suggests is causing the gap in performance between children in UK schools and those in cities such as Shanghai and countries such as Singapore.

Schleicher made a number of interesting points about our education system which are worth mulling:

1. Even the vast improvements in London schools haven’t brought them up to the standard of far east education systems. 

Some of the Labour MPs on the committee – and Liberal Democrat David Ward – were grizzling about the way the OECD makes its comparisons. Schleicher told the committee that the organisation compares children from similar backgrounds so that an education system’s impact on deprivation can be properly studied, rather than results simply reflecting the affluence of the various countries in question. But he was asked by Ward whether it was unfair that the whole UK education system was being compared to that of one city state when it was measured against Shanghai. He replied:

‘We have encouraged the UK actually to collect separate data for London like many countries have [for their large cities] already. We believe that’s an interesting dimension to look at, to compare the performance of large cities.

‘I would still, this is a guess that I make now but I would still think that you would find a very large difference between Shanghai and the City of London. Probably London would outperform the rest of the country, I think there’s good national data for that, when I look at your national data, you’re not going to be anywhere close to some of the city states.

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