Timss: England slips in global maths rankings as Asia excels

England holds steady in science but East Asia continues to dominate with Singapore sweeping the board as the world's top-ranked schools system, according to Timss

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England has slipped down an international league table based on the performance of primary and secondary pupils in maths, results published this morning reveal.

The Timss (Trends in International Maths and Science Study) shows that England’s maths scores in tests taken by 10 and 14-year-olds rose in 2015, compared with the previous study in 2011.

However, improved performances from other countries meant that England's 10-year-olds slipped from ninth to 10th place, while secondary pupils slipped from 10th to 11th.

In science, England’s scores also improved, and 10-year-olds remained at 15th place in the table while 14-year-olds moved up one place to eighth.

East Asia once again dominated the top places in rankings, compiled from the test results from 580,000 pupils. Singapore came first in both subjects, at both age groups.

Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan took the next four places in maths for both age groups; leaving the same group of five Asian systems at the top of the table as in 2011.

The gap between performance in these countries and the rest of the world is such that teenagers in Japan, which took fifth place in maths, are around a year and a half ahead of the next highest performing country, Russia. 

The same five East Asian systems were all in the top six places for science. Russia came fourth in science for 10-year-olds and seventh for 14-year-olds; while Slovenia’s 14-year-olds came fifth.

In the two decades that Timss has been running, more countries have seen scores rise than fall.

England 'should be proud'

Co-director of the study Ina Mullis, from Boston College, in the US, said: “The positive trends indicate education is improving worldwide, and it’s not at the expense of equity between high and low-achieving students.”

In maths, the average score of 10-year-olds in England rose from 542 in 2011 to 546 in 2015 and for 14-year-olds scores rose from 507 to 518. In science, the average score of English 10-year-olds rose from 529 in the last round to 536 this time and for 14-year-olds scores went up from 533 to 537.

Dirk Hastedt, executive director of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which runs the study, said that England should be proud of its results.

"It is one of the top performers in Europe. That is something to celebrate and be proud of. Can England be better? Sure every country can be better," he said.

"The rankings are correct but when you look at the results you see neighbouring countries are statistically no different, so it is a difficult comparison. It's more important and more relevant to focus on the achievement results and the trends."

While England’s performance in the rankings has stayed broadly the same, former high-flyer Finland fell sharply – dropping from eighth to 17th in primary maths and from third  to seventh in primary science. By contrast, Kazakhstan, Slovenia and Norway saw dramatic rises up the ranks.

Northern Ireland has continued to do well in primary maths, finishing sixth, and Russia, Norway and the Republic of Ireland all overtook England in the same table.

In science, England’s steady performance in this round of Timss will be seen as some improvement compared with 2011, when 10-year-olds plummeted down the league table from seventh place in 2007 to 15th and 14-year-olds also lost ground. 

Between 2011 and 2015, science scores have risen and at secondary level England’s teenagers performed the third best in Europe – behind Slovenia and Russia.

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