Canny spending is improving British schools

21st September 2007 at 01:00
OECD praises focus on staff over class sizes

BRITISH SCHOOLS are reaping the rewards of better teacher salaries and a sustained investment in early years education, an influential international body said this week.

The UK now spends more per child on education for three-year-olds than any other, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

On teacher salaries, Scotland and England are now in the top half of the international league table, with newcomers' pay having improved most sharply in the past decade.

But state primary class sizes at 26 pupils per teacher are "very large" by international standards, and the gap between private and maintained school class sizes is bigger here than anywhere else.

The findings come in the Education at a Glance, an annual report of school and university characteristics across the developed world.

On primary pay for newly qualified staff, Scotland and England rank 10th and 12th out of 31 OECD countries. The positions for secondary are 11th and 13th.

For more experienced teachers, England is ranked 16th for primary and secondary, with Scotland 10th (primary) and 13th (secondary).

The UK's investment in pre- primary education is pound;3,959, while the OECD average is pound;2,369. The report says this is impressive given that participation of British three- and four-year-olds in education rose from 51 to 91 per cent between 1998 and 2005. But spending per university student fell by 7 per cent in real terms during 1995-2004.

Andreas Schleicher, the organisation's head of education statistics, said the Britain had been "wise" to focus spending on early years and teacher salaries. It could have focused on cutting class sizes, he said, but there was no clear link between small teaching groups and higher attainment in league tables of nations' performance.

He said that when the OECD started producing its annual report, British teachers were relatively poorly paid. "How the UK spends its limited education resources is actually quite efficient in terms of getting the most out of it," he said.

Other countries, such as the US and Italy, spent more on education but achieved worse results, as measured mainly by the OECD's tests in literacy, maths and science.

The report shows that graduates and non-graduates have benefited in countries where higher education provision has expanded rapidly. Britain has seen only moderate higher education growth since 2000, it says.

* www.oecd.orgedueag2007

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