The sizeable gap in the mathematics skills of English pupils and those from East Asia first emerges at primary school or even earlier. Between the ages of 10 and 15, however, the gap remains relatively constant. Moreover, the mathematics skills of the highest achieving 16-year-old English pupils lag two years behind those of the brightest pupils in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
These are some of the findings of the study ‘The mathematics skills of schoolchildren: How does England compare to the high performing East Asian jurisdictions?, by Álvaro Choi, IEB researcher, and John Jerrim from the Institute of Education (IOE) at the University of London. The study, which has had great repercussions in both the British and international press, makes these claims following a comparison of the performance of pupils from countries that participated in the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study in 2003 (schoolchildren aged between 9 and 10) and 2007 (those aged between 13 and 14) and in PISA 2009 (those aged between 15 and 16).
The study also notes the significance of household socio-economic status on the performance of the English pupils and identifies several causes of the differences in the levels of mathematics skills: the early streaming of pupils both between and within classrooms, the systems for selecting and remunerating teachers and various cultural questions.
Finally, the authors call for an earlier intervention in the education system, early investment to reduce the socio-economic inequalities of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and the introduction of programs that might enhance the performance of the highest achieving students.