England's brightest fall behind

28th January 2000 at 00:00

Sarah Cassidy reports on ministerial schemes to improve mathematics performance, as English children fall further behind.

ENGLAND'S brightest teenage mathematicians have fallen behind students in the rest of western Europe for the first time, a new analysis of international test figures has revealed.

This removes the one bright star from the dark skies of English underperformance in maths, according to Professor Sig Prais of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

Although England's average and below average pupils performed badly in international comparisons, up until now the country could always rely on its brightest pupils doing well, he said.

As recently as 1991 the top 5 per cent of English 13-year-olds - those ikely to go on to specialise in maths - did slightly better than pupils in France, Italy and Switzerland.

But a new analysis of a major international survey in 1995 revealed that the top group of English 13-year-olds were nearly 10 weeks behind their counterparts in Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The same is now true for the top 25 per cent of English pupils - the broader group who go on to university - who were more than eight months behind.

In a new book, Comparing Standards Internationally, Professor Prais commented:

"This declining trend in English top pupils' attainments reinforces the worries that have been expressed with increasing urgency by mathematics professors on entry standards of university students."

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