UK 'lagging behind in education'
The UK's performance in reading, maths and science has failed to improve in recent years, leaving the nation's teenagers lagging far behind their peers in countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, a major international report has found.
Despite the UK spending more than average on education, there has been "no change" in the country's abilities in the basics, according to the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study 2012.
The UK was in 26th place for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science, it found.
More than half a million 15-year-olds from 65 countries took part in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) study last year, which assesses how students could use their knowledge and skills in real life, rather than just repeating facts and figures.
The findings show that the UK's average score for maths was 494 and in reading it was 499, broadly the same as the OECD averages for the subjects and putting the country on a par with nations such as the Czech Republic, France,and Norway.
In science, the UK's teenagers scored 514 points, above the OECD average and similar to results in Australia, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Slovenia.
But it also leaves the UK lagging far behind leading nations including Shanghai in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan in each of the areas tested.
The OECD concluded that across all three subjects the UK's average performance in maths has remained unchanged since the PISA tests in 2006 and 2009.
Andreas Schleicher, special adviser to the OECD's secretary-general, said: "The relative standing and the absolute standing of the UK is really unchanged."
He added: "In essence you can say that the UK stands where it stood in 2009."
The results come despite major investment in education in the UK.
The study found that the UK spends more per head on education than the average across OECD countries, at around £59,889 per student between the ages of six and 15. The OECD average is £50,951.
It says that expenditure per student can explain about 30% of the difference in average maths results between countries, but that moderate or high spending per pupil does not automatically equate to particularly high or low performance in the subject.
The report shows that around one in eight (12%) of UK teenagers are considered "top performers" in maths scoring the highest results, this is a similar proportion to the OECD average. Around nine percent were top performers in reading, while 11% fell into this category in science.
And more than a fift h (22%) were "low performers", compared to the OECD average of 23%, meaning that at best they can solve simple maths problems. Around 15% were low performers in reading, along with 15% in science.
The results also showed that students from an immigrant background in the UK perform as well in maths as other students, whereas in many other OECD countries they score significantly lower.
It adds that UK students are generally positive about school, but like those in many other countries they are less positive about learning maths.
Mr Schleicher said that the latest PISA results could not be used to judge the Coalition Government's education reforms, saying "you couldn't possibly see anything of what's been done in the last couple of years."
Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "These poor results show the last government failed to secure the improvements in school standards our young people desperately need.
"Labour poured billions of pounds into schools and ratcheted up exam grades - yet our education system stagnated and we fell behind other nations."
He added that the performance " underlines the urgent need for our reforms".
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: "The PISA report is a big wake-up call. Eastern dominance centres on the importance that these high performing education systems place on the quality and status of the teaching profession as the central lever for driving up standards.
"This report exposes the failings of this Government's schools policy: a policy that has sent unqualified teachers into the classroom and prevented effective collaboration between schools."