A fifth of UK pupils do not have basic skills in maths and science by the age of 15, according to an international report.
Teenagers in Britain are lagging behind those in Vietnam, Poland and Slovenia.
A study of tests carried out on 15-year-olds in 76 countries ranked Britain 21st, and found the lack of fundamental skills in the country’s youngsters will limit the potential for economic growth if nothing is done.
The findings present an ongoing challenge for Nicky Morgan, who was reappointed as Education Secretary this week and has endeavored to raise standards in schools following radical reforms introduced by her predecessor Michael Gove.
Researchers for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who analysed the results, said trillions of pounds could be added to the economy if those lagging behind are brought up to achieve level one in the tests – a measure of basic skills.
It said: ‘The quality of schooling is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run. If every 15-year-old in the world reached at least the baseline level one of performance by 2030 the benefits for economic growth and sustainable development would be enormous.’
The OECD ranked Britain 21st for the percentage of pupils achieving basic skills, while Estonia is second, Vietnam is seventh and Poland is ninth.
The findings present an ongoing challenge for Nicky Morgan, pictured, who was reappointed as Education Secretary this week and has endeavored to raise standards in schools
In the UK, around 20 per cent of students are considered to be performing below a basic skills level in the international tests. This means they struggle with simple multiple-choice questions such as ‘what happens when muscles are exercised’ or have difficulty doing basic currency conversions.
Overall, the UK scored an average of 504 in international maths and science tests. Slovenia scored 507.6, Poland scored 521.7, Vietnam scored 519.9 and Estonia scored 531. Singapore topped the list with an average student performance of 562.5.
In nine of the 76 countries – Ghana, Honduras, South Africa, Morocco, Indonesia, Peru, Qatar, Colombia and Botswana – more than two-thirds of students fail to meet the basic skills level. At the other end of the scale, in Singapore, Hong Kong and Estonia it is less than 10 per cent.
The researchers calculate that, in the UK, ensuring all youngsters reach a basic skills level by 2030 would add £2.33trillion to the nation’s economy by 2095. On another measure, increasing the average achievement of students by 25 points over the next 15 years would boost the UK’s economy by £5.6trillion.
The report, Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand To Gain, was written by academics Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, and Ludger Woessmann, professor of economics at the University of Munich.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘As a result of our continued drive to raise standards in schools we are seeing thousands more pupils taking core academic GCSEs and A levels – those most valued by employers and universities. We want all young people to have access to these rigorous subjects, regardless of where they live. GCSE tables show 90,000 more pupils took the challenging EBacc last year compared to 2010 – an increase of 71 per cent. Our own research – backed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies – shows that doing well in school adds an average of £140,000 to a young person’s earnings, proving the value of our reforms to the economy and pupils.’
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)