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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 13:12 GMT
How pupils are doing internationally
Pupils in the UK ranked fourth at science
Pupils in the United Kingdom are performing better than most of their counterparts in developed countries.

An international survey of literacy, science and maths skills shows that pupils in the UK are above average in each of these subject areas.

Top five for literacy
New Zealand

The survey, carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found that pupils in Finland had the best literacy skills, with Japanese pupils highest at maths and Korean pupils top-scoring in science.

Click here for a list of countries involved

The study of 15-year-old pupils in 32 countries found that German pupils were below average in all three subjects.

And pupils in the United States appeared in the middle ranking average band for all three subjects.

Top five for maths
New Zealand

The ratings are based on an assessment of how pupils approaching the end of compulsory education are able to apply their academic skills to problems in the workplace and in adult life.

Among the high-flying countries which appeared in the above-average rankings for all three subjects, along with the UK, were Finland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Austria and Sweden.

Within Europe, Finland was the single most successful country, with high ratings for science, maths and literacy.

Top five for science
United Kingdom

Among European countries, only Finland and Ireland were above the UK at literacy. And in maths, only Finland and Switzerland were above the UK - and in science, only Finland performed higher.

Among the other major European countries, France only appeared in the above-average rankings for maths.

Pupils in Russia, Poland, Greece, Italy and Spain were below average in every area.

The lowest scoring countries for all subjects were Brazil, Mexico and Luxembourg.

International high flyers
Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Austria and Sweden. (Above average at every subject)

But the report also found the UK had one of the widest variations in performance between students from the wealthiest and poorest social class groupings.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris described the results as a "vindication of the reforms of the last few years, but challenges lie ahead".

"The 21st century demands ever higher standards and other nations are not standing still."

The research was based on the following countries:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Netherlands results were not published in the report. Liechtenstein, the Russian Federation, Latvia and Brazil are not members of the OECD.

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The BBC's Mike Baker
"The results will surprise many"
See also:

27 Jun 00 | Education
UK suffers skills shortage
27 Jun 00 | Education
Pledge to boost skills
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Western literacy levels 'too low'
22 May 00 | Education
Basic skills for adult learners
03 Apr 00 | Education
Boost for basic skills
21 Nov 01 | Education
Science failure threatens economy
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