UK students 'lagging far behind'
The UK's performance in major international education rankings has stagnated, leaving the nation's teenagers lagging far behind their peers in East Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan.
Despite the UK spending more than average on education, there has been no change in the country's abilities in reading, maths and science in the past six years, according to the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study 2012.
The UK failed to make the top 20 for any of the subjects, coming 26th place for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science, it found.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "Since the 1990s, our performance in these league tables has been at best stagnant, at worst declining."
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, 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 other jurisdictions including Shanghai in China, which came top in each of the three subjects with average results of 613 in maths, 570 in reading and 580 in science.
East Asia dominated the top 10 in each of the area tests, with Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan all scoring highly.
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.
"In essence you can say that the UK stands where it stood in 2009."
Mr Gove and shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt highlighted the performance of Asian nations, suggesting that the UK's pupils are being left behind.
Mr Gove told the Commons: "For all the well intentioned efforts of past governments, we're still falling further behind the best performing school systems in the world. In Shanghai and Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, indeed even in Taiwan and Vietnam, children are learning more and performing better with every year that passes, leaving our children behind in the global race."
Countries such as Germany and Poland - both of which outperformed the UK in the PISA tables - that have had the "courage to radically reform" their school systems have improved their performance, Mr Gove added.
Mr Hunt said: "It is clear that for all the hard work of our head teachers, teachers, parents and learning support staff, we do have a long way to go in English, maths and science in order to match our global competitors. These findings are a wake-up call for our schools.
"The PISA data reveals the continuing strength of East Asian countries, and whilst there are important cultural differences which we should seek to understand, there are also pointers to reform in our own school system."
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%) UK teenagers are considered "top performers" in maths with the highest results - a similar proportion to the OECD average. Around 9% were top performers in reading, and 11% in science.
More than a fift h (22%) were "low performers", compared with the OECD average of 23%, meaning that at best they can solve simple maths problems. Around 15% were low performers in reading, and 15% in science.
Mr Schleicher said 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."