Not even the brightest students in England are performing as well in academics as their similarly talented peers in the Far East, according to a study from the University of London's Institute of Education. Although at age 10 the academic outcomes are similar, as children get older England begins to lose ground, with the gap widening to as much as 2 years by the time they turn 16.
The authors of the study hope that the findings will serve as a call to action by the government to make sure that students in Britain keep pace with their international peers to assure the country's economic future. Responding to the report's publication, head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw said that tens of thousands of England's children were doomed by their schools because of the government's insistence on continuing the policy of mixing students of all abilities in their classrooms rather than allowing the brightest and the most academically ambitious to progress at a faster pace.
Last night, the Coalition seized on the disclosure, claiming that the report represented a "damning indictment of Labour's record on education".
Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, said:
"This Government is clearing up Labour's mess. Our reforms – tougher discipline, more rigorous exams, more freedom for headteachers, a more demanding curriculum and higher quality teaching – will drive up standards so our pupils have a first-class education that matches the best in the world."
The report's findings were based on analysis of two international studies: the Programme for International Student Assessment and the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study. Both studies are based on exams administered to students around the world every four years between 2003 and 2009.
Of the 12 countries studied, England's brightest lagged the worst, but the gap was particularly striking when comparing student performance against that of the countries in the East such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.
Dr John Jerrim, one of the report's authors, said the findings were "worrying".
"At the age of 10, the highest achieving children in England can match the highest achieving children in Taiwan and almost match the highest achieving children in Hong Kong," he said. But the highest achieving children aged 16 in England are about two years behind the highest achieving children in Hong Kong and Taiwan. One reason might be that the curriculum doesn't stretch the highest achieving children enough in secondary school."
The authors recommended that more focus needs to be paid to math education in school, especially the curriculum used in early childhood education and in primary schools.