James Forsyth

How far our schools have fallen

How far our schools have fallen
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Comparing GCSE or A-Level results to previous years is a meaningless exercise. Leaving aside all the arguments about whether or not these exams are getting easier, it doesn’t much matter if children today are doing better academically than their peers a generation ago. What does matter is how they are doing in comparison to children in other countries, the people they’ll be competing with in the global marketplace.


Today’s PISA rankings, the OECD’s comparison of education standards, makes for depressing reading on this front. England has fallen from 7th in reading in 2000 to 25th today, from 8th to 27th in maths and 4th to 16th in science. Admittedly, the survey now takes in more counties than it did in 2000 but these results still show an alarming fall in our comparative performance.


They are yet enough reminder of how crucial Michael Gove’s education reforms are to this country’s future prospects. Encouragingly, the reforms are in line with what PISA identifies as being the building blocks of a good education system: schools that have autonomy but are accountable to parents, qualifications that are rigorous and an emphasis on hiring high-quality teachers.

P.S. We're running this graph in the magazine on Thursday. It juxtaposes our PISA showing with the amount that was spent per pupil over the New Labour years: