England among highest performing western countries in education

England is among the highest performing European and western countries in global education study

Pupils in England have risen up the international rankings for maths, placing England as one of the top performing countries in the western world. 

A worldwide education study published today (5 December 2023) shows England has significantly outperformed the international average and risen from 17th for maths in 2018 to 11th, and from 27th in 2009.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment of 15-year-olds’ mathematics, reading and science ability. Conducted by the OECD, it is widely accepted as the international benchmark for academic attainment for secondary school pupils. 

These strong results demonstrate that the government has made real progress in driving up standards. We are determined to build on this success and take the long-term decisions necessary to improve attainment for generations to come. 

This is why in October, the Prime Minister set out a bold new plan to introduce a new baccalaureate style qualification – the advanced British standard (ABS) – that we will see every student in England study some form of maths and English to age 18, giving them the skills they need to succeed. As part of this, the government has already announced an investment of £60 million over two years to further improve maths education and help lay the groundwork for the introduction of the ABS. 

Today’s results also show that England has ranked 13th for both reading and science, having been placed at 14th and 13th respectively in 2018 and 25th and 16th in 2009.

They build on England’s significantly improved position for 9- to 10-year-olds reading ability in a separate international study earlier this year, PIRLS, in which English children were ranked fourth out of 43 comparable countries – making them the best in the West.  

Education standards have risen sharply since 2010, with 89% of schools now rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, up from just 68% 13 years ago. 

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said: 

“These results are a testament to our incredible teachers, the hard work of students and to the government’s unrelenting drive to raise school standards over the past 13 years.   

“Taken together with our children being named ‘Best in the West’ for reading earlier this year, England is now firmly cemented as one of the top performing countries for education in the western world. 

“Our teachers, head teachers and support staff should be incredibly proud of their role, day in and day out, transforming education standards in this country and giving our children the platform to build successful careers and compete for the best jobs in world.”  

Aside from attainment, the report has also highlighted other positives findings, including that England’s education system is more equitable that most– meaning that all children all have access to a brilliant education and a chance of success, no matter their background. 

Additionally, the report found that pupils in England were generally more positive about the quality of their maths lessons and the support given by their teachers, than the OECD average.  

The government has enjoyed considerable success for maths over the years, with England achieving our highest ever score in primary school maths in TIMSS 2019. Over £100 million has been invested in the Maths Hubs programme, whose flagship Teaching for Mastery offer will have reached 65% of secondary schools by 2025. To help boost maths attainment further, the Government also announced the creation of a new National Professional Qualification in April to help embed best practice in their schools. 

The report does highlight the challenge of the pandemic. In England, pupils have been supported to catch up with almost £5 billion available for education recovery measures, including more than £1 billion for the National Tutoring Programme alone, which has revolutionised the way targeted support is provided for the children and young people who need it most. 

The report also found that the majority of pupils in England reported feeling safe in their schools.

Department for Education
The Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP