Top of the league for high-tech

7th December 2007 at 00:00
UK schools have the most computers per pupil in the world but some of the pushiest parents.The UK has the most high-tech classrooms, the most comprehensive accountability system, and some of the most pushy parents in the world.

It shows we also have few schools which set pupils for all lessons and we are likely to have benefited from that.

And the fact that the UK has few grammar schools is unlikely to have harmed our position in international league tables, while making the country less socially segregated than would otherwise be the case.

These are some of the findings from the latest three-yearly study of student performance in reading, maths and science, published this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests in these three subjects are supplemented by questionnaires filled out by students and heads in 57 Pisa countries.

The heads' questionnaire revealed that UK classrooms have more computers per child - more than one for every four pupils - than any others. A figure of 0.28 to one was three times higher than that in Germany and well in advance of the OECD average of 0.16. Australia ranked second on 0.26.

More than pound;3 billion has been spent on computer equipment in UK state schools in the past eight years. However, a survey earlier this year found almost half of secondaries said they needed more equipment.

On accountability, the UK leads the developed world on the use of test and exam data as measures of the performancee of heads and teachers.

Some 91 per cent of UK heads said assessment statistics were used in evaluating their own performance, while 93 per cent used it to assess teachers.

In the three top-performing OECD countries overall, Finland, South Korea and Canada, the corresponding figures were all far lower, and well below the OECD average. However, the Pisa report appeared to give support to ministers who have argued that England's system of high-stakes testing is the route to higher standards.

It analysed the Pisa science scores of schools where, according to the head, domestic test results are released to the public and found they tended to do better than those where grades were kept internal to the school.

UK parents were found to be the fifth most demanding in the world, some 38 per cent of heads reporting that many parents put pressure on them to achieve high academic standards.

Only in New Zealand, Sweden, Ireland and Japan were the figures higher. The Conservative Party recently called for secondary schools to set pupils for all subjects.

But Pisa raises questions about this policy.

More UK schools set pupils for at least some subjects than for any of the other 54 nations for which data is available.

But relatively few, only 8 per cent, do so in all subjects.

Those British schools which had setting by ability in all subjects did worse than others which limited it to only a few classes, the study found.

It also concluded that, across all countries, grammar school systems did no better or worse than those with comprehensive education.

However, academic selection tended to mean that there were larger performance gaps between pupils from well-off and poorer backgrounds.

HOW THE UK RANKED OUT OF 55 COUNTRIES

1st - for computers per child.

5th - for heads saying that many parents put pressure on school to achieve high academic standards.

55th - for schools which have no setting by ability.

5th - for using achievement data to evaluate teachers' performance.

1st - for using achievement data to evaluate principal's performance.

Source: OECDPISA - data for France and Liechtenstein not unavailable.

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