LONDON: The UK is below average in an international comparison of social mobility within school system, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which has now published an analysis of fair opportunities for pupils.
It shows that Shanghai in China, South Korea and Finland are among top performers in both results and equity.
The UK is successful in results, but weaker in fairness.
This Oecd study compares the reading skills of teenagers against the levels of social equity.
Breaking the cycle
The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests published by the Oecd show a strong link between social disadvantage and low achievement in school.
“On average across Oecd countries, disadvantaged students are twice as likely to be among the poorest performers in reading compared to advantaged students,” says the report, based on an analysis of tests taken in 2009.
But this study says there is nothing inevitable about this connection between social background and achievement.
At the top end of the international spectrum, Shanghai, Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and the Netherlands are among a select group of school systems with very high results and high levels of fairness, where pupils can succeed regardless of background.
Russia, Spain, Croatia and the Czech Republic are relatively strong on equal opportunities, but have low performance.
Bulgaria, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan perform poorly on both equity and results.
The UK belongs to a group of countries, including France, Germany and the United States, that are above average for results, but have lower levels of equity.
Andreas Schleicher, the Oecd’s special adviser on education, says a long-term characteristic of the UK’s education system has been social division — with a polarisation between the results of rich and poor pupils.
But although the UK remains less equal than the Oecd average, there has been an improvement.
Schleicher says this is also a major problem for other Western economies, such as France and Germany. And the big challenge is to develop education systems that no longer accept widespread underachievement among poorer pupils.
“In the past, economies and school systems could tolerate these inequalities. But the life chances are deteriorating rapidly for those without qualifications. There are more severe penalties,” he says.