English university entrants maintained their high achievements in maths and science relative to other countries over 20 years, according to an international round-up of educational achievement.
Worlds Apart?, published this week by the Office for Standards in Education, shows that, while the relative performances of younger English school children deteriorated between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, the performance of 17-year-old pre-university students was remarkably constant at the high end of the league table.
Authors David Reynolds and Shaun Farrell of Newcastle University said: "It is the consistency of the data that is so surprising. There is nothing to support those who would criticise maths and science standards among first years."
Figures comparing indicators from the International Association for the Evaluation for Educational Achievement's first international maths study in 1964 with the second study in 1982-83 show that, overall, England slipped from first place in the league table for pre-university pupils to second, switching places with Japan.
For pre-university science, data produced in the IEA's first international science study, in 1970-72, placed England fifth while the second IEA survey, in 1983-85, showed England fourth.
The report speculates on the reasons behind the relatively high performances of Pacific Rim countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan in maths and science and factors may include parental aspirations, the high social status of teachers and the belief that all pupils are able to aquire certain core skills.