Children of Shanghai cleaners beat UK doctors' kids at maths

Education minister to visit China to find out why their results are so high in global maths tests

LAST UPDATED AT 09:21 ON Tue 18 Feb 2014

CHILDREN of cleaners in Shanghai and Singapore have outperformed the children of UK doctors and lawyers in global maths tests, according to new analysis. 

More than half a million 15-year-olds took part in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study, with the findings published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in December.

Overall, the UK came 26th in maths with an average score of 494, with pupils lagging behind their contemporaries in places such as Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

New analysis, published yesterday, showed that the children of UK parents with "professional" jobs, such as doctors or lawyers, scored fewer points on average than the sons and daughters of parents with "elementary" occupations, such as cleaners and catering assistants, in Singapore and Shanghai.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss has warned that the UK's productivity and growth is being put under threat by poor maths skills and is heading to Shanghai next week to find out why the city is so good at the subject.

"The reality is that unless we change our philosophy, and get better at maths, we will suffer economic decline," she said. "At the moment, our performance in maths is weakening our skills base and threatening our productivity and growth. I am determined to change this."

Truss added that the government's new curriculum has borrowed from schools in Shanghai (the only Chinese city to take part in the Pisa study). It includes early learning of key arithmetic, and a focus on times tables and long division.

The Department for Education says it is prioritising maths because of the subject's importance to young people competing for jobs, as well as its importance to the economy, explains The Independent.

A number of reforms are already being introduced, such as banning calculators from tests for 11-year-olds, requiring teenagers who fail to reach a grade C in GCSE maths to continue studying the subject, new maths qualifications for post-16 students and bursaries to attract top maths graduates into teaching. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.

Read more about