A comparative study of pupil performance in more than 40 countries has confirmed that English children really are poor at maths - but its science findings are surprisingly upbeat. David Budge reports. The heartening performance of English 13-year-olds in the TIMSS science test suggests that the country's slide down the international educational league tables can be halted.
Although England may no longer be in the first division for science achievement it appears to have moved up to very near the top of the second division, a higher position than many pundits had thought possible.
Young scientists in four countries, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Japan and Korea comprehensively outscored the English. But England did substantially better than two-thirds of the countries surveyed.
About one in six of the English pupils (17 per cent) were within the top 10 per cent internationally in both age groups tested (Years 8 and 9), a proportion that was remarkably similar to Japan's (18 per cent). England has also overtaken Hong Kong in science, a rare feat that will worry the colony's educationists.
"Overall, the data suggest that there has been an improvement in England's relative position compared with other countries since the second survey of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Progress was carried out in 1991," the researchers comment.
The TIMSS findings were alsomuch more positive than the results of the 1983-85 Second International Science Study. That 23-country survey revealed that English 14-year-olds were relatively poor at science.
But TIMSS again confirms that England also has more low achievers than the Pacific Rim countries. Seventeen per cent of the English pupils were within the bottom 25 per cent internationally, compared with only 9 per cent in Japan and 4 per cent in Singapore, the country that came top of both the science and maths tables.
The English did, however, score above the international average in both Years 8 and 9 in each of the five science areas that were tested: earth science, life science, physics, chemistry and science and the environment.
They also appeared to be making above-average progress between Years 8 and 9 in life science and science and the environment.
English pupils did particularly well in the latter area in which they finished second to the all-conquering Singapore in an 11-country table of developed nations.