Maths results gap 'widens with age'

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England's brightest youngsters are two years behind the best pupils in nations such as Hong Kong and Taiwan in maths by the time they are 16, new research shows.

It reveals that England's cleverest pupils can match their peers in leading East Asian countries at the age of 10, but then begin to fall behind.


Researchers suggested that more needs to be done to ensure the most able pupils are able to keep pace with the highest achievers in other countries.

The study, by researchers at the Institute of Education, University of London, looked at the children's maths achievement in two international studies, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

Ministers have raised concerns about England slipping down international rankings - coming 28th in maths in the PISA 2009 tests.

The researchers analysed TIMSS maths tests taken by nine and 10-year-olds in 2003 and by 13 and 14-year-olds in 2007, and PISA maths tests taken by 15 and 16-year-olds in 2009.

The study concludes that the gap between the top 10% of pupils in England and the highest achievers in East Asia widens between the ages of 10 and 16.

The study also found that England's most able youngsters make less progress than those of similar abilities across all the 12 other countries studied as a whole. The other 12 countries studied were Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Slovenia, Norway, Scotland, the United States, Italy, Lithuania and Russia.

The researchers concluded that England should focus on helping all youngsters with their maths skills at an early age. The report says that English policymakers should concentrate on reforming maths in the early primary, and pre-school years, as well as ensuring that the brightest youngsters are stretched in secondary school.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss insisted that the report was a "damning indictment of Labour's record on education". She 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."

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