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EDUCATION AT A GLANCE

Are classroom assistants a good substitute for trained teachers?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports on the educational performance of its member countries in a lengthy 400 page document entitled “Education at a Glance”.

The very size of the document has allowed different interpretations; some journalists celebrating the UK success and others noting with dismay that children in this country are set to become more disadvantaged than their counterparts across the world.

The most successful countries operate “liberal curriculum models that recognise the needs of the individual over blanket national testing”


The gap between state and private is noticeable in the study of class sizes. Children in the UK independent sector share lessons with 13 fewer children than their state sector peers. Whilst this has led to a very positive response from the independent sector, the government defends its position rigorously with the School’s Minister in England, Andrew Adonis, pointing to the increased number of teaching assistants in the classroom. He prefers to count the number of pupils per adult rather than pupils per teacher: “Thanks to our policies . . . we have seen 150,000 more adults in the classroom . . . where in 1997, there were 17 pupils per adult at primary level - now there are 12.”

The Guardian’s Jessica Shepherd noted that the results were not as impressive as Lord Adonis might wish, quoting the report: “The UK’s primary schools have bigger class sizes than almost every other developed country; despite ministers injecting millions of pounds to keep them low.” She found better news for those responsible for funding our schools with the study revealing that the UK invested more in pre-primary schooling (£3,500) than every other OECD country apart from Austria, Iceland and the United States.

This spending has made a priority of pre-primary education rather than primary, “which has led to a high quality provision,” reported the BBC News. Whilst this was viewed as a positive finding, Stephen Spain writing in the Guardian, asks if the “English formula of more money and more testing [is] really working?” The government insists that the overall results in SATS tests are better than when Labour took power in 1997.

Spain thinks that the international comparisons are “less flattering to the government.” “The OECD international ranking places the UK 13th in reading this year, down from 7th in 2000 - and 18th in Maths,” concluding that, “despite increased spending, the UK hovers around the OECD average for both reading and maths.” This data primarily reflects performance in England, leading Stephen Spain to comment: “It would appear the £40m being spent on SATS tests is a complete farce.” “They are not only failing to improve education in England but may be driving down standards as schools reduce their curriculums to teach to the tests.”

“The OECD international ranking places the UK 13th in reading this year, down from 7th in 2000 - and 18th in Maths”


The OECD data shows that the most successful countries operate “liberal curriculum models that recognise the needs of the individual over blanket national testing.”