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Europe trails British sense of fair play

PUPILS in the UK feel more fairly treated and more satisfied with their results than their counterparts in other European countries.

A survey of more than 6,000 13 and 14-year-olds has found that pupils in Belgium, Spain, France and Italy want more attention given to less-able pupils, but find it is often the brightest who get the lion's share. But in the UK pupils want to be treated equally, regardless of ability, race and social background - and say this is what they experience.

Most striking of all, less than 3 per cent of pupils in the UK report that they generally receive "low marks" in school. This is a much smaller proportion than in other countries, especially Spain, where 23 per cent report low marks.

The survey was conducted in November and December 2002 under the European Union-funded Socrates programme.

Professor Stephen Gorard of Cardiff University said the results were the clearest indicator yet that UK schools were less segregated than in other countries.

"We have a much less divisive system here," he told The TES, "possibly because children of all backgrounds are distributed across all schools, and performance is more evenly spread. The national curriculum also enables all children to be treated the same."

Only 13 per cent of children in the UK felt more attention needed to be given to the less able, compared with 40 per cent elsewhere. The overwhelming majority of UK pupils - 81 per cent - felt teachers should give equal attention to all pupils. One in five pupils in other countries reported that able pupils got extra help, although less than 3 per cent supported it.

Pupils in the UK have some reason to be satisfied with their marks, says Professor Gorard. The 2001 Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) study showed that UK pupils had the fourth-highest reading score for all EU countries as well as one of the smallest gaps between the scores for richest and poorest, he claims. But other researchers dispute his interpretation of the Pisa findings.

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