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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Pre-school spending leads world
The UK's education spending is now above the average for the OECD
Three and four-year-olds in the United Kingdom are receiving the best-funded education in the industrialised world, says an annual report from the OECD.

The international comparison says education spending in the UK on pre-school children is about twice the average for developed countries.

The OECD says the increase in spending per child, for a growing number of children, has been "remarkable".

But in primary school, the report says pupils face above-average class sizes.

The OECD said its analysis of education spending showed the UK "invests more than any other country per child at the pre-primary level".

Nursery place pledges

It also commended the overall rises in education spending in the UK, saying it "stands out in showing consistent rises in educational investment, both in terms of a rising share of GDP and in terms of a growing educational share in the public budget".

See how various countries compare on some key figures.

These latest international comparisons, covering up to 2002, report that the per capita spending in the UK for pre-school children was $8,452 (4,645) when the average for industrialised countries was $4,294 (2,360).

The government has made a priority of pre-school education - having promised to provide free part-time nursery places for all four-year-olds and then all three-year-olds.

It has also developed the Sure Start network to support the parents of young children.

The OECD's head of analysis, Andreas Schleicher, endorsed the investment. He said there was evidence it would yield considerable long-term benefits.

However he said that the extra spending was catching up on what had been a shortfall - and that participation rates were only now beginning to match the existing levels elsewhere in northern Europe.

Once these children move onto primary school, the report says that class sizes in the UK remain above the average for OECD countries.

Class sizes

The average for the UK is 26 pupils per class - a figure that is higher than all the other industrialised countries except Turkey, Japan and Korea.

But Mr Schleicher urged caution about assuming that small classes were inherently better - saying that class size was part of a series of choices about education spending.

In the case of the UK, which had an average level of spending on primary school pupils, he said higher class sizes were accompanied by greater investment in teachers' pay and in longer teaching hours.

There were other countries which had smaller class sizes, but also had lower spending on staff and fewer hours in class - and overall had lower levels of achievement.

In overall terms, the report says the UK's spending on education has risen from a "comparatively low base" to a position that, for the first time in recent years, is above average - as defined by the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) invested in education.

The share of GDP spent on educational institutions in 2002 reached 5.9% - compared to 4.3% in 1990.

Drop-out rate

However the report's presentation of long-term term trends highlights a longstanding weakness that is showing few signs of improving.

The UK has experienced a high drop-out rate at 16 - and the report says there remains a substantial problem with students in the UK leaving school without "baseline qualifications".

Mr Schleicher said this group of youngsters paid a particularly high penalty for their lack of qualifications.

The figures comparing the generations who left school in the mid-1990s with those who had left school in the 1970s showed a picture of "stagnation", he said, in terms of the numbers without such a minimum level of qualifications.

More recent statistics, showing the achievements of 17-year-olds, reinforced this picture and showed few signs of major improvement, said Mr Schleicher.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills in London said: "Tackling this stubborn issue is a priority for this government and we are already working with employers to develop high quality, high status vocational learning that will increase the numbers of trained individuals entering the workplace."

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