England's questionable superiority

10th July 2009 at 01:00

Professor Lindsay Paterson is a bit hasty in concluding that England has won the unofficial Home Championship of education ("England's schools are best, says Scottish academic", July 3).

The Timss (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) results were actually the first bit of unalloyed good news for England in an international testing survey since 2001. While I think there is convincing evidence that maths standards have risen in English primaries in the past 10 years, in other subjects and for other phases, the record is mixed.

At GCSE, there has been huge pressure on English secondaries to raise results. So they focus on "borderline" candidates, "manage" coursework, select textbooks geared to particular exams and favour courses that carry a high weighting.

The system has become very efficient at extracting grades from pupils and delivering the results that policymakers need to justify their spending. But whether English pupils are better educated in any meaningful sense is another question.

The "England good, Scotland bad" verdict that the article suggests, then, is not sufficiently nuanced. The two countries' policies are just different.

Warwick Mansell, Author of 'Education by Numbers: the Tyranny of Testing'.

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