back to article British teens score a C in international science poll

British kids have plummeted down an international league of science tests, research from the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) shows. However, the nation's youth probably won't be too upset about their unboffinish performance – it's not like they'd be able to read about it after all. The OECD PISA test of 15-year- …


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  1. Andy S

    here's an idea!

    Actually go back to teaching science in school science lessons instead of a bastardised compilation of politics, religion and very low level of English comprehension.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I thought the traditional response to bad test scores was to moan about the pressure kids are under with all this testing these days...

  3. call me scruffy
    Thumb Down

    Edducation, educaysion, edyoukayshon

    So let's see...

    Comprehensives are turning out illiterate ludites, and they want to ban public schools.

    Colleges are teaching A level courses that are now so watered down that A level maths doesn't have to contain either matrices or complex numbers.

    And universities are bursting at the seams after Herr Blair decreed that half of the kids should go to university.

    Of course when he said "Education, Education, Education" he really meant removing any trace of critical thnking or reasoning so that the next generation of voters wouldn't notice how crap his thoroughly reprehenisble party was at running a country!

  4. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Plonkers 'r' Us

    "Other parts of the establishment will then point out that the UK's strength is in its trading heritage and restate the role of financial services and the City. And then someone will ask "haven't you read the papers recently"?"

    Remove the crooked cartels masquerading as political parties from the equation and the country would fare better for goodness knows they must be spending all their time just hiding what they are doing from view......and with the blessing of the Met. too, for they are easily cowed into submission.

    I wonder if Yatesy will be allowed to do his thing again, just to have all of his efforts dismissed as effectively worthless just before Criminal Prosecution kicks in/bottles out.

    I wonder what dirty little secrets they are being blackmailed/pressurised with? A paedophile tag perhaps, a gay liaison, hookers while wifey is tending the kids, weckweational dwug or dirty money .... there is certainly a full palette of choice.

    Ok, rant over ....I feel a lot better for it too. A rant a day keeps can't away.

    And now ....... well, one either fixes it or breaks it. And methinks simple effective measures to try to fix it with IT, will be QuITe enough to break it, if it is not fit for purpose, which one would have to admit would be much more of a valuable service than a malicious act/terrorist plot.

    Although given the state of national/international intelligence, would they know the difference?

  5. Anonymous Coward

    @Andy S

    Ah yes, the famous "Topical Science" GCSE where kids would be told what to think about genetic engineering etc rather than being left to join the dots for themselves.

    By the way readers might like to look at the "Thinking Skills Assessment"

    Incredible though it seems, there are students applying to oxbridge who can't actually pass that test... to my mind such people shouldn't be going to university AT ALL.

  6. Eileen Bach

    @Andy S

    Yours is a good hypothisisisis. They could use the poor but excellent scientists from QneticQ perhaps? (See other story thread). There's a bloke up north with a few bob (Who's getting some returned soon I understand) and might switch from religious politics to funding science instead maybe? - little 'cough, 'a-hem', 'cough'

  7. Leigh Smith

    Well what do you expect...

    ...when kids spend all their time playing on xboxes? It isn't because school and teachers are rubbish it is because kids play video games.


  8. Subtilior


    Britons may be thick, but are very very good at drinking and violence, which is what really counts in the long run. I suggest we find some of these brainy countries, go over there and beat the crap out of them and take their gold and women. That'll teach them for being a load of swots.

  9. voshkin


    In light of the aricle, WTF is this all about?

  10. Jason Togneri

    It could be worse

    I believe that in the good old U S of A they try to teach their kids "the three Rs" of basic education...


    'Riting, and


    Oh, how I cry for the future of our species.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Law
    Paris Hilton

    RE: here's an idea!

    "Actually go back to teaching science in school science lessons instead of a bastardised compilation of politics, religion and very low level of English comprehension."

    That's so crazy that it might actually work....

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nice work

    hey, amanfrommars, i understood all of the first half of your post, please forgive me for all of my unkind previous postings, you and i are what make this site, and Lester of course..

  14. Duncan Hothersall

    Chinese Taipei?

    First time I've seen El Reg use that political sidestep to describe Taiwan. Any reason for it?

  15. voshkin

    BBC Changed the article

    BBC Changed the article!

    When I have posted, it was “UK among school science leaders - BBC News

    The UK is among the better performers in an international league table”

    I have the screenshot to prove it!!

    Now, when I click on the link, it says “UK schools slip down in science”

    It is not paranoia when they are really after you!

    When I saw the headline in the morning, I could not believe my eyes! With all my respect for English teenagers, those unlucky few whom I have quizzed about their scientific knowledge, were, frankly way below the average of what a sensible person would consider basic knowledge.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Until recently, i worked in a FE college. Alot fo the classes were carried out in open areas surrounded by screens, so walking past you could hear everything as though you were in there with them. I passed a second-year A-level class, and it sounded more like the chimps' tea party: the teacher seemed to spend more time, sorry, asking the kids turn their phones/ipods off while the kids just carried on chatting amongst themselves. One kid moaned like hell about being asked to turn his ipod off, saying, in a hurt tone, he could listen to what the teacher was saying and the music at the same time!

    You hear a good deal in the media about how dumbed-down education has become and how useless our teenagers are, and I tried to resist buying into all this, believeing that most kids were like I and my friends were as teenagers 20 years ago, boisterous but mature enough to realise you need to learn in order to get a job, status, money (girls!). But this experience and many others during my time there just sapped any hope I had for the youth of today, and prove the media doomwatchers right.

    My view is that they should forget this idea that *all* children should strive for academic excellence, and allow those who may not be academically-minded but may have potential in perhaps more useful areas, like trades, to leave at age 15 or even 14 and concentrate on that, giving them a sense of doing something useful rather than kicking their heels in a classroom. In a nutshell, bring back a form of secondary-modern, but without the 'poor relation to grammars' tag.

    Now, where's my sports jacket and flat cap....

  17. Chris

    Hey, leave the poor kids alone!

    British teens all deserve 'A' grades because they are SUPERSTARS, each and every one of them! Who cares if they can't read, write or count? They don't. That's what spell checkers and calculators are for, right?

    British examining boards are in competition with each other to make their courses as easy as possible whilst maintaining the veneer of keeping with the standards of years gone by. However, with the sciences and other more intellectually rigorous subjects, this can be a little more difficult to do without it being obvious.

    Trouble is, if they don't, then kids will simply take the easier subjects like 'Drama' and 'Media Studies' for example.

    Amusingly, despite the fact that children are coming out of primary schools without basic reading, writing or arithmetic, they are still getting fantastic marks at GCSE level. What gives?

    Such children will steadfastly refute the assertion that their exams (or is it only course work now?) are easier on the basis that they were the most difficult GCSEs that they had ever done, along with statements like "Dat maffs exam was real ard, I ad to add and everyfink!"

  18. Spleen


    Except not only are we thick, we're also fat. We may be able to fight each other (read: roll around and slap each other in a thinly-disguised homoerotic ritual) but if we launched a Viking-style invasion I'd be surprised if we could even take France.

    If the Government really wants our kids to get brighter (and that's highly dubious, "Labour wants kids to stay thick so they'll vote for them" is not a cynical conspiracy theory, it's a logical conclusion), first step: ban Media Studies, and drama, and Film Studies, and the rest of them. No consultation, no mercy, stop teaching them, pulp the textbooks, sack any teacher who can't teach something useful. Shakespeare didn't take a single lesson in drama and he turned out all right. Name me a respected journalist who studied Meeja - decent journalists study English, History or similar. English, Art and Music are perfectly adequate as far as spiritual uplift goes and actually broaden your horizons. The kids that can't learn English or Maths or Chemistry or German should be able to drop out and learn a trade or just get used to how a checkout seat feels.

    It'll never happen of course, because teachers are still regarded as sacred guardians of our children instead of just another lobby group. They'll never countenance anything that results in some teachers losing jobs (and therefore their unions losing members and political power). To put it bluntly, if you want to know whether a reform benefits the country, ask the unions. If they don't like it, it's good for Britain.

  19. Hollerith

    The usual anecdote

    My mother-in-law was a maths teacher until recently and was also an exam-marker for many years. She finally gave it up because she saw the questions being made easier every year. She felt she was no longer marking 'maths' papers but social studies papers.

    But of course one anecdote is not proof of sliding standards. That can be tested by asking kids what they think of homoeopathy of Intelligent Design, or the probability of certain specific things happening (tossing heads or tails, etc.).

  20. Damian Gabriel Moran

    to quote Bill Hicks (as I am often fond of doing)

    Kids are smart, because I don't know one kid with a job and kids!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    We don't need no thought control

    I blame Pink Floyd.

  22. Darkside

    Er, excuse me...

    You meant "lack of interest".

    "Disinterest" is something different.

    Pedantic, or just English-speaking?

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Its simple really!

    Labour want the populous to be poor and uneducated, because that is the profile of their electorate, alongside the young and naive (votes for 16 yr olds) immigrants (amnesty for illegals anyone?) wimmin (ooh that nice Mr Blair) the sick (NHS) and those on means tested benefits (child 'credits').

    Brown is still banging on about apprenticeships fer f*cks sake! Continuing the present strategy of feeding kids worthless qualifications and filling their heads with enviro-bollocks and clairvoyance will ensure that we reach a par with the Sudan, Chad and Mozambique pretty damn soon; which will probably be described as 'fair' and 'a tribute to our cultural diversity' by the labour apparachniks /<rant>

  24. Chris G


    Has anyone seen what passes for a science lesson nowadays? The stuff they teach fifteen year olds wouldn't challenge an average ten year old. The gov' should stop underestimating our kids and give them lessons and exams to challenge them, after making lessons more interesting.

    It seems from what kids in the London area have told me that schools only teach a general science class whereas when I was at school we had separate physics and chemistry classes.

  25. John Savard

    Where's Chinese Taipei?

    I think you mean the Republic of China, also known as Taiwan. Shame on you, or whoever, for showing disrespect to a democratic nation simply to please the dictatorship next door to it.

  26. J
    Paris Hilton


    "Which probably explains why the world's brain drain tends to run in one direction."

    Hmm, I'd say it is the money that explains why we come to the US, even if the smartest ones from here don't go elsewhere nearly as often...

    Now, you guys complaining about GB's placement... Wanna trade with my crappy country's ranking at 52 (out of 57 countries, btw) and 390 points?

    Paris because I suspect even she would score better than 390... Well, maybe she wouldn't.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Has anyone seen what passes for a science lesson nowadays?

    Yes. Awful. I considered teaching but I had the only degree that barred me - philosophy - and I couldn't be arsed to get another one. Once considered subversives, until the A-bomb came along, philosophers could claim to have killed more human beings in the history of civilization than anyone else. (Think about it). In 2007 I expect they're bothered that philosophers might teach some real science, real logic, real critical thinking, real politics, real ethics, etc.

    So I got into C instead.

  28. Brian
    Black Helicopters

    2 cents worth from the U.S.....

    I found it enlightening that you in the U.K. are saddled with the same educational nonsense that we are with our illustrious "No Child Left Behind"... a milestone of sociopolitical buffoonery that is partially funded by corporate entities that also have a hand in dictating the syllabus of our children.

    In only 6 short years since its implementation, the U.S. rankings have fallen to absurd levels. Even with the dismal reports there are those who are quite content to keep funding it, coming up with such reasoning as "It hasn't had enough time to take full effect so funding must be continued/increased". I kid you not, this statement was made by a friend of mine...a mother that (oddly enough) home-schools HER children. Add to that her near-zealotous commitment to her religion and the Idiot-In-Chief we have, it should then come as no suprise that she and people like her (and there appears to be a hell of a lot of them) also push hard for Creationism in science class. Nevermind, of course, that she and people like her cannot differentiate between non-testable postdiction and actual science. If, in fact, the NCLB hasn't had enough funding/time to accomplish it's mission, then I say end it now before critical thought is eliminated entirely from the education system.

    This all came to bright, screaming reality to me while helping my niece with math problems over the phone. The problems in and of themselves were not terribly difficult...however the methodology used to solve them was goofy at best. In addition it wasn't the correct answer which actually recieves the points for a given problem, but the method employed in attaining it. I only wish I was kidding. Even though her and I were able to calculate the correct values (proven by substituting our answers back into the original equation...a "trick" taught to me in the waaaaayyy-back time of the early 1980's), we could not jibe with the methods that were taught in her class. As of late, I have been showing her algebraic methods to use in tandem with the horseshite she is being taught in class.

    Then I remembered that she was also enrolled in "TESSERA"...a program for extended learning for advanced students in the public school system. I, also, was enrolled in the same program 20+ years earlier. It dawned on me that she is having to be enrolled into E.L. programs in order to learn what I did in "normal" school at the same grade level...such as Social Studies, hard Science, and Art (these are practically verboten in education planning and funding).

    The result is fairly evident: Critical thought is being watered-down or wholly removed from the classroom (I believe on purpose). The same group that instituted NCLB also were pushing hard for the school voucher program. So...if the public schools were seen to be extremely deficient via poor stewardship ....then maybe the populace will be in favor of voucher programs for private schooling.....thus, those pushing the voucher program would be "vindicated" and those schools that pay them would make more bucks. I'm sure it's just paranoia making me suggest that.

    And to my friends in the rest of the world, if you think that America has a narrow, self-indulgent, or at least wildly myopic worldview now, just wait a decade or so...the generation of idiots that our school system is producing (and our society/ culture is promoting) is going to be far, far worse.

    Must go now. After declaring EL Prez was "Idiot-In-Chief", I can almost hear the choppers coming my way. They can prove what I wrote because a copy of it was electronically "split" and sent to Room 641b in California. (That wasn't a joke....but I guess it qualifies as a strained reach for the IT angle.)

  29. James Condron

    Easier Exams? Easier Lessons?

    So what was the last lesson, or exam, any of you complaining bastards sat through? I remember being in a secondary school where the teachers could control the classes, my Physics teacher at the time being an angry Scotsman who could make your bollocks shrivel back up with a glance...

    And you know how many people failed that class? (me neither, but it can't have been many)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Chris G

    You're probably getting confused with the mixed science GCSE - two GCSEs for Science. Science lessons tend to be taught separately although it may well be the same teacher teaching all three or two teachers splitting them etc due to timetabling issues. Even the national curriculum separate the subjects although under different headings.

    It might have been a reference to 21st century science which incorporates all three physical science in a more topical way - I'll leave it as a class exercise to read about this!

  31. Anton Ivanov

    Nothing surprising, move along

    This is to be expected.

    If you read the list, the earlier and more forced education is the lower a country is in the ranking. Finland starts at the age of 7. Estonia - 7. Slovenia - 7. And so on.

    The solution to this problem is to leave the children along for at least 1-2 more years instead of forcing them into a strict mould at the age of 4 and a half as is currently the standard in the UK. UK kids have their abstract thinking erased by teachers who are trying to make them read at the age of 5 through memorising. At the same time the rest of the world (or at least quite a few of the highly ranked countries in the list) leave the kids alone till the age of 7. After that they make them use logical thinking to assemble words out of phonemes (aka fully synthetic phonics). Most of the countries which do not try to force kids to read before 7 also teach them more math in the 5-7 interval.

    So you have kids who have been trained into memorisation and kids who have been trained to think logically and have had more math at an earlier age. It is trivial to guess which ones will win in a science competition.

  32. Karim Bourouba

    @John Savard

    Unfortunately, the Republic of China doesnt have any official support any more.

    They have been forced out of the UN for over 30 years now and cannot gain entry to any major international organisation. Chinese Taipei is the diplomatic term used when referring to the ROC

  33. Slaine
    Black Helicopters

    @ anon (as usual) et al

    I too began teacher training, having a choice of Maths OR Biology I chose the former. A delightful 4th year helped me see the error of my ways... whilst trying to introduce the class to "factorising" I found myself asking for 2 numbers which, when multiplied together, would give me 8. I noticed the child in question, chatting to the kid behind, so in true teacher-mode I obtained the classes attention, repeated the question and asked "it" directly.

    "I dunno, what does it matter!". Awe bless; it must have been too close to lunchtime for the little darling.

    Skool is not about education, it's about keeping kids off the streets whilst both parents slog their hearts out to make enough money to afford an extra holiday, to make up for the fact that they have to slog their hearts out at work, instead of spending quality time with their families.

    It also serves as a "limitation and control" exercise, aimed (as is so correctly stated above) at removing the intelligent, inquiring part of the mind in favour of promoting consumerism.

    [incredibly long deleted diatribe about the press, government and globalisation, discussing some of the many blatant paradox between articles referring to "exam results", "raising standards", "not dumbing down" compared with "basic common sense" and "ability" coupled with comments about the lack of funding, support and respect that teachers obtain]

    oops - i'd better stop there. there's another black helicopter overhead.

  34. Anonymous Coward


    Interesting that Australia (527) was somewhat less disappointing than the UK (515).

  35. lglethal Silver badge

    @ Damian Gabriel Moran

    You obviously havent been walking around the Isle of Wight recently! You see LOTS of kids with children!!

    Personally, i say turn high school teaching into a university style structure where if the kids fail a subject they have to repeat it until they pass it. Having a 16 year old still doing a year 7 course would quickly have them paying attention thanks to the huge amount of ridicule they would receive. And dont let them leave school till they've completed all the courses expected of a 15/16 year old...

  36. Finn

    One more 2 cents

    I was born in Finnland and spent my 9+3 schoolyears there and I find it really hard to accept most of these explanations for the poor preformance.

    There are almost identical problems in Finnland as compared to rest of Europe. Obesity, xbox, centre-left party in power, increasing rejection of evolution, booze and fighting, you name it and Finnland got it. And we start at age of 7, not age of 5. Age of 5 finnish kids mainly sing songs about vegetables. All schooling starts at age of 7, reading and math.

    In fact, there is one thing that is hardly mentioned in here. The Teachers. Like in the orient, finnish people rank teaching among the most respected professions. Most polls find them almost en par with medical doctors in professional respect. And this is your average comprehensive school teacher we are talking about.

    Second thing I think can explain Finnish score is the training of teachers. If you have a PhD in Math, you can become a University Professor in Finnland, but you can't teach 7-16 year olds, the mandatory schooling years. Strange but true. In Finnland you need a higher decree in education before they let you anywhere near the blackboard. The actual subject you are going to teach is secundary and you might only need a bachelors decree in that (these are not quite direct translations as Finnland of course has its own higher education standards, but they compare). This means that while teacher might not be able to teach math from 1+1 to the Aleph-null, he or she can teach everything he knows extremely well.

    So I think Finnland scored well, because we are tought by highly skilled professional teachers capable of holding average standards well, who are all well trained in the art of teaching and highly motivated (if rather sadly, not paid nearly enough). Of course this might just be me being finn and respecting our teachers too much. I haven't really looked how well other countries train their teachers, but read mainly newspaper articles.

  37. Nick Galloway


    Does this mean that the UK might qualify for the Negroponte One Laptop Per Child program?

    Free laptops for the UKs kids to flog at the local market. Perhaps a lesson in overclocking the OLPC might constitute a science lesson?

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: to quote Bill Hicks (as I am often fond of doing)

    >Kids are smart, because I don't know one kid with a job and kids!

    Well, I don't know of any with a job.

  39. Slaine

    after Nick...

    ... but you seem to have overlooked the fact that most UK kids already get access to a free laptop (well, a cheap one anyway), bought and sold in the pubs by their mates who nick 'em

  40. Daniel B.


    Whoa. You just made my day; it means that my choice for postgraduate studies at Helsinki *is* the best option after all. A country that respects teachers is a good thing.

    The NCLB crap in the US is similar to the constant dumbing-down standards in Mexico, where the equivalent to kindergarten is somewhere around *three* years old (3 years kindergarten) though it is really only enforced from age 5 / last "kindergarten" year. Not to mention that usually kinder's a joke compared to US standards (well, 1986 standards anyway).

    Public schoolbook reading stuff is usually boring, and God help you if some wacky teacher tries to make 6 y/o kids read "weird" stuff like "the Classics", in language the kid doesn't even understand. I think my joy for reading came more from Dr. Seuss books, Berenstein Bears, Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth" than "classics".

    And whatever happened to the Speak & Spell / Speak & Math toys? Kids will learn, even on their own, as long as they think its fun.

  41. Name

    U.S. is 29th? Who cares

    People in the U.S. generally don't worry about those less fortunate than they are. In other words, a majority of people who can read don't spend time worrying about those who can't. And last time I checked, the literacy rate among people who can read in the U.S. was somewhere in the neighborhood of 100%. Can't get much higher than that.

  42. Paul Murray

    Crooked Cartels

    "Remove the crooked cartels masquerading as political parties "

    And introduce a single person who by right of birth has authority to govern the country as they see fit. They will have a vested interest in seeing that the country does well, and be effectively incorruptible - who could bribe them?

    Funny how ideas turn out in practice.

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