How do we make school students perform better than average?

1 min read

What are we to make of the latest assessment of the performance of the UK's education system?

The tests, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, found UK school students perform around the average in mathematics and reading and above average in science, compared with the 34 OECD countries that participated in the 2012 PISA assessment of 15 year olds.

Average, apparently, isn't good enough and the conclusion is that our economic future is doomed. To say the issues involved are complex doesn't quite do the topic justice. But let's just say that it's not about the education system itself; there are many societal issues which feed into the problem. This links into the recent report from EngineeringUK, which concludes there are not enough engineers of all types and not enough people wanting to be engineers. Amongst its suggestions are that the numbers of young people studying GCSE physics be doubled and for the numbers of students studying physics A level to match those studying A level maths. One of the problems here is that studying GCSEs – and certainly A levels – is elective; only maths, English and core science are mandatory. So, in order for students to perform well in subjects like physics, they have to want to study physics in the first place. That means we have to make what's on the other side of GCSEs, A levels and university degrees look attractive. Until that happens, there will be no incentive for students beyond those already enthused with physics to follow that route.