Bright pupils ‘falling two years behind peers in Far East’

An Institute of Education working paper by John Jerrim and Alvaro Choi The mathematics skills of school children: How does England compare to the high performing East Asian jurisdictions? generated a number of responses in the media: The Telegraph (from where the title of this post was borrowed), The Guardian, BBC, The Independent.

A quote from the paper, p. 19:

[A]lthough we maintain that policymakers should focus on the earlier stages of young people’s educational career, some important changes are needed to improve aspects of mathematics provision during secondary school. The most pressing issue is to ensure that the curriculum stretches the best young mathematicians enough, and that they are motivated (and incentivised) to fully develop their already accumulated academic skill. Evidence presented in this paper has suggested that the gap between the highest achieving children in England and the highest achieving children in East Asia widens between ages 10 and 16 (at least in mathematics). This is something that needs to be corrected as highly skilled individuals are likely to be important for the continuing success of certain major British industries (e.g. financial services) and to foster the technological innovation needed for long-run economic growth (Bean and Brown 2005, Toner 2011). One possible explanation for this finding is the widespread use of private tuition by East Asian families for both remedial and enrichment purposes (Ono, 2007; Sohn et al., 2010). This helps to boost the performance of all pupils, including those already performing well at school. In comparison, private tutoring in England is mainly undertaken by a relatively small selection of children from affluent backgrounds, often for remedial purposes. While a large proportion of East Asian families are willing to personally finance such activities through the private sector, the same is unlikely to hold true in the foreseeable future within England. Consequently, the state may need to intervene.

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