London lags behind other world cities in international school performance tables, UCL-IoE research

UCL-Institute of Education research report

London secondary school pupils are behind their peers in East Asian, European, Australian and North American cities and regions by the equivalent of about half a year of schooling.

Children in Shanghai, the top performing city overall, are around 3 years ahead of their London peers in maths alone. Only the top 10 per cent of London’s 15-year-olds could match the maths skills of the average Shanghai pupil at this age.

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education compared the performance of just over 1,000 pupils across 42 London schools to their peers around the world. The researchers estimated pupils’ scores using information collected in 2009 and 2012 from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international survey that measures 15-year-olds’ abilities in reading, maths and science.

London was consistently outperformed in all 3 areas by Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Maastricht, Helsinki, Milan, the Australian states of Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, the Canadian provinces of Québec, Ontario and British Columbia, and the American states of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In addition, pupils in the Latvian city of Riga performed better than Londoners in maths and reading. Moscow and Reykjavik did better in maths, and Madrid scored higher in reading. Pupils in the rest of the UK scored slightly higher on science assessments, but were no better or worse than Londoners in any other area.

However, London pupils were up to 2 years ahead of those in the poorest performing cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Mexico State and Abu Dhabi.

This study is the first to compare London’s performance in the PISA tests to that of similar international cities and regions.

The PISA assessments also included a series of questions on the pupils’ attitudes and behaviours at school. Fifteen-year-olds in London were no different from their peers around the world in their work ethic or perseverance in their studies. They were, however, much more likely to take responsibility themselves if they did badly on a test, rather than blame their results on factors outside of their control.

The UK capital’s performance on the PISA tests will come as a surprise to many educationists, given London schools’ strong performance in national examinations.

“London schools have been rightly lauded in recent years for improving performance, particularly among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, London’s comparatively poor PISA results seem to stem from certain groups performing worse than expected, including girls, ethnic minorities and young people from lower socioeconomic groups. This is especially surprising as these groups end up doing much better on their GCSEs just 6 months after the international assessments,” explained Dr John Jerrim, the study’s lead author.

“However, it is important to remember that this is just one assessment, and is a single piece in a much bigger jigsaw. London’s success in GCSE examinations is still a cause for celebration, though clearly much more also needs to be done to ensure children in our capital city are able to compete with the best in the world.”

Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture, Munira Mirza, said: “Whilst young Londoners get the best results in the country at GCSE, this research highlights the challenges still faced by London’s disadvantaged students in achieving as well as their peers. The different assessment style of PISA appears to have the biggest impact on the performance of disadvantaged and ethnic minority students, and seems to explain the weaker results in London in comparison to the rest of the UK. It is critically important that there is no complacency or reduction of support for London schools, and since these results were recorded, the Mayor and the Government have developed a pan-London programme to maintain the focus on improvement. We will be investigating these initial findings further and continuing to work with London’s schools and teachers to enable all young Londoners to achieve.”

‘Benchmarking London in the PISA rankings’ by John Jerrim and Gill Wyness is the latest working paper from the Department of Social Science, UCL Institute of Education (IOE). It will be available at from 00:01 on Thursday 25 February 2016. Embargoed copies of the paper can be made available to journalists upon request.

Notes to editors

1. Authors Dr John Jerrim and Dr Gill Wyness are based at the Department of Social Science, UCL Institute of Education. They conducted their analysis of London’s PISA results in collaboration with the Greater London Authority.

2. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey that evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading and science. The assessments are administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). To date, pupils representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment.

3. A single ‘ranking’ for London in PISA should not be reported, due to the moderate sample size. Instead, reports should focus upon differences between London and other jurisdictions which are ‘statistically significant’, as identified within the paper.

4. The OECD states that a difference of 40 PISA test points is equivalent to one year of schooling.

5. Young people completed a detailed background questionnaire as part of their PISA assessments. In 2012, the questionnaire included a series of statements relating to work ethic (e.g. ‘I study until I understand everything’), perseverance (e.g. ‘When confronted with a problem, I give up easily’) and whether they blamed others or external circumstances for not doing well on a test (e.g. ‘This week I made bad guesses on the quiz’). Pupils responded to each statement using a 4-point scale from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’.

6. The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leader specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In the 2014 and 2015 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for education worldwide. It was shortlisted in the ‘University of the Year’ category of the 2014 Times Higher Education (THE) awards. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its ‘outstanding’ initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework, 94 per cent of our research was judged to be world class. On 2 December 2014, the Institute became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education.

7. University College London (UCL) was founded in 1826. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world’s top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and over 11,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion. | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel

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