Over the past decade we have seen the U.K. slip down the OECD world league table in educational quality. The shocking statistic just issued by the Institute of Education in London reveals that the brightest maths students in the UK, on a par with their peers in Hong Kong at the age of 10 years, fall behind their counterparts by two years by the age of 16 years. The UK now lies in the mid 20’s position in the OECD league. Has this assiduous slippage has been masked by the concentration on targets set by the department for education.
This massive slippage must be of great concern to educationists and parents in the UK. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of OFSTED has demanded an investigation into how state schools are teaching mathematics. But this survey revealed the ability of the brightest students, whereas the vast majority of our school children will be classed as good or average. Their performance has not been revealed but it would be a normal expectation that their ability in mathematics has suffered an even greater slide.
There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth as our teaching resources, department for education and maths specialists battle to point the finger of blame at each other. We will see a continuation of the argument that school teachers are pressured to gain the greatest points against targets which has historically left the brightest and the struggling student isolated from the focus of the teacher. The alarm bells must surely ring witnessed by the massive drop in mathematical ability by the brightest students. The survey reveals that in the space of six years the smartest students have slipped two years behind their counterparts in the Far East. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realise this colossal degradation in performance is both a slap in the face for the UK educational standards and the thousands of school children whose dreams and aspirations lie severely curtailed by their maths education programme.
The outcome of the investigation must have a clear objective. We cannot afford to merely fix the hole in the dyke. The situation of falling educational standards has been cited for some years during which a multitude of educational initiatives have come and gone, and mostly failed. This is surely the time for a radical rethink of how we are teaching our children; perhaps the best benchmark should now be the Far East. We may have to eat humble pie and actually study how schoolchildren are taught in overseas schools and emulate this in the UK as a proven facility and avoid short term initiatives.
This should result in a completely new teaching format and skill base for the UK rather than a repair. Time is of the essence and the longer it takes to resolve this issue the greater our potential slip down the league table. We must also face the thousands of school children that we have let me down as a consequence. And face the reality that the U.K.’s educational program is creaking in a world that is demanding English and mathematics as core subjects in order to compete in the now global market.