Top maths pupils fall behind international peers

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The most able primary pupils in England match international peers, but fall back by the time they are 16, a new IoE study suggests.

Researchers studied results from international comparison tests taken by 10-year-olds in 2003. Overall English pupils achieved scores in line with the international average for maths in the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), with the top 10% of pupils' results comparable with those from some high achieving East Asian countries.

However analysis of tests taken by 16-year-olds six years later suggested that although the performance of English students overall had not worsened, the brightest had done less well, compared with their counterparts overseas.

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests showed that overall English pupils came 28th for maths out of 65 countries and that the highest-achieving English children appeared to make less progress, relative to their overseas peers, particularly in East Asian countries, between the ages of 10 and 16.

The IoE report recommends more emphasis on ensuring that high achieving school-children in England manage to keep pace with the highest achieving pupils in secondary school via, for instance gifted and talented schemes.

The report also says that the overall focus should not be on secondary schools because England is quite clearly some distance behind the leading East Asian nations before children reach their 10th birthday.

Instead the authors recommend that policymakers should concentrate on educational reforms in primary and pre-school and want more effort made to raise the basic skills of disadvantaged groups.

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