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December 6, 2023

UK lags behind world-leader Singapore in latest OECD PISA global education rankings

Following a global trend, the UK saw its performance dip across maths, reading and science

By Stephanie Bridger-Linning

Singapore remains the world leader in education as East Asian countries dominate PISA, the OECD’s stocktake on the state of global educational performance. 

Singapore tops the rankings in maths, reading and science, according to the latest Programme for International Student Assessment survey, published yesterday.

[See also: How to get your child into private school in the UK: the expert guide]

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In contrast, the UK’s achievement scores have fallen across all three subjects, although they still rank above the OECD average. Of the home nations, England is the best performing while Wales is the worst.

The PISA survey is conducted every three years and is considered a vital measure of education systems. The 2022 edition, which was delayed from 2021 due to Covid, tested nearly 700,000 15-year-old students in 81 OECD member countries and partner economies. This edition was the first to collect data on student performance, well-being and equity before and after the Covid-19 pandemic. 

[See also: Spear’s Awards 2023 finalists: School of the Year]

The Pisa survey focuses on students’ understanding of concepts rather than the efficacy of the school curriculum. Respondents took two one-hour tests focusing on two different subjects across reading, maths, science and creative thinking. (Eg. maths followed by science or reading followed by maths). 

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UK fall reflective of wider PISA education trend

The drop witnessed in the UK was reflective of a wider trend. On average the PISA 2022 assessment saw an unprecedented drop in performance. Mean performance in reading fell by 10 score points compared to 2018. The difference was even greater in maths, which saw a 15 score point drop-off. 

The OECD noted this drop could only be partly attributed to the effects of school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic as falling scores were already seen across the board prior to 2018.

[See also: School of the Year: the British School of Brussels wins at the Spear’s Awards 2023]

In maths, Singapore and five other East Asian education systems, Macao (China), Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong (China), Japan and Korea, outperformed everyone else. These same countries and economies were the next highest performers in science, along with Estonia and Canada. In reading, Ireland performed as well as Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei and Estonia.

Despite a dip in performance, England has risen up the PISA rankings in maths and reading. It is now ranked 11th in maths, up from 17th and 13th for both reading, up one place from 14th. It remains consistent in science at 13th. 

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