The 26-country Third International Maths and Science Study, which found that English nine-year-olds were doing badly in maths but relatively well in science, has also revealed that a third of England's primary teachers and more than 40 per cent of their secondary colleagues wanted to quit teaching.
The findings on teacher attitudes, which are to be published next month by the National Foundation for Educational Research, show that English primary and secondary school staff felt much less appreciated than teachers in almost all the other countries which took part in this section of the study. They were also much more likely to say that, given the chance, they would quit teaching and find another job.
Thirty-three per cent of the 259 English primary teachers questioned by the TIMSS researchers said that they wanted a change of career, and the secondary maths and science teachers were even more disenchanted. Forty-one per cent of the 485 maths teachers wanted to quit, as did 46 per cent of the 599 scientists.
Dr Wendy Keys, one of the NFER researchers who has been involved in TIMSS,said that the statistics were worrying. She said that it was difficult to prove that teacher disaffection contributed to the country's poor maths performance, but added: "If the Government wants to improve standards in primary maths it should also take steps to improve teacher morale. It would make its task somewhat easier."
As the survey was conducted two years ago, it could be argued that teachers' morale is now higher than the TIMSS findings suggest. Tony Blair has promised that his new Government will value teachers.
Nevertheless, the TIMSS statistics suggest that Labour has a lot of ground to make up if English teachers are to become as enthusiasti c about their job as teachers in countries such as Germany, Canada, Switzerland and Holland.
Only 19 per cent of English primary teachers felt that society appreciated their work, compared with 57 per cent in Canada. And while a third of English primary teachers wanted to leave teaching only 19 per cent of Dutch primary teachers and 24 per cent of Canadians said that they needed a career change.
Secondary teachers in Hungary, who are among the lowest-paid Government employees, felt even less loved than the English. Only 4 per cent of Hungarian maths teachers said their work was appreciated by society, compared with 27 per cent in England.
The researchers, however, drew much higher public esteem ratings from the German (49 per cent), Canadian (52 per cent) and Swiss (84 per cent) maths teachers.
Science teachers generally felt slightly less appreciated than the mathematicians. But the Germans (39 per cent) and Canadians (44 per cent) were almost twice as likely as the English (22 per cent) to say that their work was valued by society. And the Swiss science teachers (80 per cent) believe they enjoy almost as much public approval as their maths colleagues.
"It may be a coincidence, but the economic status of Swiss teachers is said to be excellent," said Dr Keys.
Although poor teacher morale may be partly blamed for the disappointing maths performance of English nine-year-olds, the TIMSS statistics suggest several other possible causal factors.
Only 11 per cent of the 6,142 English children surveyed were receiving whole-class instruction in most maths lessons, compared with 68 per cent in Singapore and 78 per cent in Japan, two of the highest-scoring countries.
And while 98 per cent of the Singapore children and 89 per cent of the Japanese pupils were given maths homework at least once a week, the English figure was only 47 per cent. English children were also much more likely to use a calculator in the classroom at least once a week - 53 per cent compared with only 1 per cent in the Pacific Rim countries.
The study does, however, suggest that large classes may be exacerbating England's problems. Although, predictably, Japan and Singapore had higher average class sizes - 32 and 39 respectively - the English average (28) was greater than those for the Netherlands (24), Hungary (22), the United States (24), Scotland (26) and Norway (19).
The survey also bears out English schools' claims that they are already concentrating on the basics. They devote 4.6 hours a week on average to maths and 2.2 hours to science, considerably more than many other Western nations.