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Funding falling behind

The UK is failing to keep pace with countries such as Greece and Korea when it comes to spending on schools. Jon Slater reports.

School funding in the UK is falling compared to most other industrialised countries, statistics published this week reveal.

Even before this year's funding crisis, spending was not rising fast enough to keep pace with the increase in pupil numbers, leaving the UK struggling to hold its place in the international standards league table.

Figures published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that in the past 30 years, the UK has fallen nine places down the table and been overtaken by countries such as Greece, Ireland and Korea.

The UK was one of only four industrialised countries which spent less per pupil on schools in 2000 than they did in 1995, according to the OECD.

Real-terms spending per pupil rose by 30 per cent in Ireland, 14 per cent in Japan and 13 per cent in France.

By contrast, real-terms spending per pupil in the UK fell by 1 per cent, according to Education at a glance, the OECD's annual book of education statistics.

Of 20 OECD countries, only Switzerland, Norway and the Czech Republic cut school spending by more.

Schools in the UK had to cope with the second highest rise in pupil numbers but Sweden, where the number of pupils increased more quickly, still managed to increase spending per child.

A generation ago the UK was ranked 13th out of 32 countries on the number of 25 to 34-year-olds with five or more A*-C GCSEs or equivalent qualifications. Al-though results in the UK have improved, other countries have done better.

By 2001, the latest year covered by the study, the UK had slipped to 22nd.

The UK also has one of the worst post-16 staying-on rates.

OECD figures show that the UK has maintained its position as a world leader in higher education, creating a widening gap between those in the UK with a higher education and those who failed to reach a basic level.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD head of indicators and analysis, said failure at secondary level had serious consequences for the UK economy and for those who fail to gain GCSEs.

A person in their 30s or early 40s without five or more high-grade GCSEs typically earns a third less than someone with those qualifications, and is almost twice as likely to be unemployed.

But John Bangs, National Union of Teachers' head of education, said the results contradicted a flagship OECD study which found UK 15-year-olds are among the best in the world at literacy, maths and science.

"There is a difficulty in comparing the results of different countries in different tests," he said.

Education at a glance is published by the OECD

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