Elizabeth Truss

Our plan to fix Labour’s toxic legacy on education standards

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.

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