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UK schools falling behind rest of world – what can we do?


Last year over half a million 15-year-olds across the globe sat the same two-hour test. The results were published earlier this week, and are now being used to compare the world’s education systems.

Run every three years, The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) always hits the headlines.

Once again the UK failed to make the top 20 (out of 70 countries) in Science, Reading or Maths, and raw scores have fallen slightly from three years ago.

For such a high-income country, and considering how much time and money we spend on our education system, it’s hugely disappointing.

Poor PISA rankings are a worry for politicians, educationalists and businesses alike – they suggest that our pupils are falling behind the rest of the world.

Why is it happening? and, more importantly, what can we do to improve our results?

Looking for answers

A new collection of essays examines precisely these questions. Published by the Fair Education Alliance, it argues that ingrained inequality in our education system is holding us back from being truly world-class.

Children in the UK who grow up in poverty are still much less likely to succeed in school. This has a huge impact on them and their life chances, but is also reflected in our disappointing PISA results.

In the opening essay of the collection, I argue that investing in a good start for every child is the way to improve outcomes and our PISA results.

I run through the huge evidence base that shows just how much children benefit from high quality early education, and the basics of the neurological development that takes place at this crucial time in a child’s life.

Help us champion the early years by signing our petition.

Investing early

Supporters of Save the Children’s work in the UK will not be surprised to hear this argument.

Supporting children in their earliest years is at the heart of all our work in the UK, because we know that it works.

We see the logic of investing early, before the gap gets too wide, and we see the impact it has on the children and families that we support through our programmes in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

It’s so crucial that we keep championing the early years, and arguing for better support in the first years of a child’s life.

We know that children who have access to an Early Years Teacher at nursery are significantly more likely to develop the skills they need before school.

Yet it’s schools issues alone that dominate the headlines and attention of policy-makers. So we hear more about Academies and Free Schools than we do about child development or ensuring children arrive at school ready and able to learn.

Early years are key

When people do talk about early education and childcare, debate often focuses on the costs to parents and the impact on maternal employment rates. While both of these are important, they should not drown out the focus on the impact on children.

If we’re serious about improving our prospects in rankings like PISA, and the lives of millions of children who are currently falling behind, we must work towards properly supporting children in their earliest years.

An Early Years teacher in every nursery would be a good place to start.

Help us champion the early years by signing our petition.

Read the full essay.

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