England nears top of world league

13th June 1997 at 01:00
"Rather good at science but could do much better at maths" concludes a 26-country survey on English nine-year-olds. These findings are very close to the same study's findings on our 13-year-olds last November. David Budge reports

Although England is short of talented primary-aged mathematicians it appears to have a reassuringly large number of budding scientists.

Only three of the 25 other countries that took part in TIMSS - Korea, Japan and the United States - did significantly better in the science tests.

Furthermore, 13 per cent of the English pupils were placed in the top 10 per cent internationally. That was 2 per cent more than even the Singaporeans and Japanese achieved, although they had a higher overall score. And only the United States did substantially better in this respect, pushing 16 per cent of its Year 5 children into the top 10 per cent.

None of the Western European countries surveyed achieved higher overall mean scores than England. The performance of Austrian and Dutch children was not substantially different from the English. But Greece, Iceland, Norway and Portugal all recorded lower scores.

Among the English-speaking countries, Australia, Canada, the United States and Scotland were on a par with England at Year 4, although the Americans pulled ahead in Year 5. New Zealand was the lowest-performing English-speaking country in science, as it was in maths.

The English pupils also comfortably outscored Hungary, Latvia, Hong Kong and Thailand. And, perhaps more importantly, England proved itself the equal of Singapore, which has emerged as one of the strongest Pacific Rim nations in recent international studies.

The relative position of England, compared with Hong Kong, appears to have improved, but the gap between us and Korea and Japan appears harder to close.

One consolation, however, is that the English children scored above the international mean in each of the four areas tested: Earth science, Life science, Physical science and Science and the environment.

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