The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's special adviser on education policy, Andreas Schleicher, has told the UK that it needs to "emulate and innovate" if it wants to keep up with international competitors.
"The generation born in the UK this year is likely to lose #163;4.5 trillion in economic output over their lifetime because UK schools aren't delivering what other countries' education systems show can be achieved.In other words, deficiencies in the UK's school systems amount to the equivalent of a permanent recession - one that could be avoided," said the depute director for education at the OECD in an article in Education International's newsletter.
Two generations ago, South Korea had the same standard of living as Afghanistan today, and it was among the lowest educational performers, said Mr Schleicher. Now it is one of the world's top-performing systems.
A major overhaul of Poland's education system had helped to dramatically reduce performance variability among schools, turn around the lowest performers and raise overall performance by more than half a school year, he continued.
Germany had significantly reduced the impact of social background on student success, he added.
"Even those who claim that the relative standing of countries mainly reflects social and cultural factors must concede that educational improvement is possible: Poland did not change its culture or the composition of its population, nor did it sack its teachers. It changed the way it runs its education system," he said.
Expenditure per student had risen by 68 per cent over the past decade in the UK and yet its Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results had remained flat.
"More generally, spending per student explains less than a fifth of the performance differences between countries. The image of a world divided neatly into rich, well-educated countries and poor, badly educated countries is out of date," he said.
"So what can the UK learn from the world's top-performing school systems? Obviously, no nation can copy and paste from another. But international comparisons have revealed that a surprising number of features are shared by the world's most successful school systems," he said.
"The world is indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving to frailty and ignorant to custom. Success will go to those individuals and nations that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task for UK policy-makers is to help its citizens rise to this challenge."
ROADS TO SUCCESS
Characteristics of the world's most successful education systems:
- leaders in high-performing systems have convinced citizens to make choices that value education more than consumption;
- belief in the possibilities for all children to achieve;
- elevating teaching to a profession of high-level knowledge workers, who work autonomously and contribute to the profession within a collaborative culture.