The UK has fallen five places in global education rankings, a new report reveals, with some analysts blaming the political focus on Brexit for sidelining education initiatives.
Overall, the UK is now 15th out of 50 countries in the third Worldwide Educating for the Future Index – WEFFI – which looks at whether pupils are equipped with the skills they need for the future.
Revealed: Top countries for 21st-century skills
The rankings report, commissioned by the Yidan Prize Foundation, established by tech billionaire and philanthropist Charles Chen Yidan, says: “In the UK… Brexit has dominated the political agenda in Westminster to such an extent in recent years that the government has paid little attention to education policy initiatives."
It notes that, “generally speaking, when falls occur from one year to the next it is less a case of deterioration in an economy’s performance and more of others registering faster improvement”.
Developing the skills of the future
The index assesses whether education systems equip pupils with “future-oriented skills”, such as critical thinking, communication, entrepreneurship and creativity.
The research covers young people aged between 15 and 24 in 50 countries – 81.3 per cent of global youth in this age range – and evaluates how school systems prepare pupils for later life through developing these skills.
Scores are calculated for each country based on three indices – the policy environment, the teaching environment and the socioeconomic environment.
The 2019 report notes there is a broad global consensus around the need for these skills, with the average “policy environment score” – reflecting whether governments create policies designed to develop future skills – now the highest of the three index categories.
In a discussion of how UK education policy development might foster "future skills" in the report, Jed Cinnamon, a senior education programme manager at Nesta – a UK foundation for innovation – said that the recent focus by Ofsted on personal development had been a step in the right direction.
But he said that “without evidence-based guidance and a focus through accountability measures, teachers and administrators will pay policy little attention and will simply carry on doing what they were doing”.
This year, Finland retained its top position in the index – it also topped the rankings in 2018 – with the report describing it as the “category front-runner when it comes to the teaching environment”, praising its commitment to extracurricular learning, careers advice and pupils’ access to technology.
“The quality of its teachers is among the world’s best, coming second only to South Korea,” the report says, adding that Finland also achieves remarkable consistency across its territories, with pupils from urban areas such as Helsinki and those attending remote rural schools accessing similar educational opportunities.
Sweden climbed the rankings to second place this year, with the report attributing this to its integration of future skills in its secondary curriculum.
The UK ranked 25th for policy environment, 14th for teaching environment and 10th for socioeconomic environment.
The Department for Education was contacted for comment.