International league table results from Timss 2003 - Moment of truth for Labour's plan

The results of recent international studies show that, despite huge investment, standards have remained static

Warwick Mansell

England's primary and secondary schools face another moment of truth next week, when an international verdict on pupils' performance is published.

The 2007 Trends in International Maths and Science Study (Timss), released every four years, will be published on Tuesday and is likely to provoke damning headlines if England's standing has not improved since last time.

A year ago, two other international testing studies saw England plummet down the rankings of developed nations in English, maths and science, prompting questions about how much Labour's investment in education had delivered.

This latest study, which is run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, based at Boston College in Massachusetts, USA, saw more than 300,000 10- and 14-year-olds tested in maths and science in 62 countries last year.

In 2004 - the last time Timms data was released - there was mixed news for England's schools.

Mathematical understanding among 10-year-olds had risen faster here than any other surveyed nation between 1995 and 2003. Science attainment for primary children was also found to be among the best in the world.

However, the results for 14-year-olds showed no major improvement on their 1995 counterparts, leaving England near the international average in maths and slightly above it in science.

Next week's results will be crucial in revealing whether the English year group that performed so well at age 10 has maintained its high results at 14.

The study will also be a potentially powerful tool for assessing whether pupils' understanding is improving, given that the tests retain some questions from previous rounds.

This allows direct comparisons to be made between pupils' performance on identical questions from one round to the next.

In November, Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, warned that the evidence from international tests contrasted dramatically with the trend of rising GCSE and A-level results, which ministers liked to point to as underlining the success of their policies.

Last December, results from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa), organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ranking 15-year-olds in 57 nations, showed the UK slipping from 4th to 14th in science, 7th to 17th for reading and 8th to 24th for maths.

A separate survey of 10-year-olds' reading skills saw England dropping from 3rd to 19th place internationally.

Donald Hirsch, an expert on international testing surveys, told The TES this week that the latest evidence suggested there had not been any great movement in standards in English schools recently.

"You could say there hasn't really been a strong movement in any direction," he said. "It is mildly disappointing, given that you'd hope to see some fruits from the Government's investment in education."

John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said that if recent trends continued, there would be no big improvement in England's performance.

Separate Timss data for England and Scotland will be published next week. Wales and Northern Ireland did not take part.


7th out of 46 at age 14

5th out of 25 at age 10


18th out of 46 at age 14

11th out of 25 at age 10.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Warwick Mansell

Latest stories