International education comparisons - National Audit Office's compendium of published information on education provision and achievement in ten countries (link)

August 7, 2006

London, 4 August 2006

International Education Comparisons - A compendium of published information on education provision and achievement in 10 countries (2180 KB)

The position of the United Kingdom
Total expenditure on education

10 In 2002, the United Kingdom's public expenditure on education as measured by the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was, at 5.2 per cent, just below average. The United Kingdom's expenditure on education is rising. In 2004-05, it was 5.4 per cent of GDP and the government expects that by 2007-08 it will have increased to 5.6 per cent of GDP.

11 Private spending on education in the United Kingdom is just below average, and equates to an additional 0.9 per cent of GDP. The proportion of spending from private sources in the United Kingdom is growing faster than in most other comparator countries, except Australia and Canada.

Early childhood and compulsory education

12 Seven of eight countries showed an increase in combined spend per student at the primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary levels, with the United Kingdom's increase sitting below the country average.

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13 Four countries showed an increase in spend per student at the tertiary level, though in the United Kingdom there was no change.

14 The United Kingdom spent more than the other countries per child at the pre-primary level3, and is raising participation at the same time. Between 1998 and 2003 there was a 70 per cent increase in spending on preprimary pupils in the United Kingdom. Over this period, the participation rate of 4-year-olds and younger in pre-primary education also increased from 51 to 77 per cent, just below the country average. The United Kingdom has the highest ratio of pre-primary pupils to teachers.

15 Spend per primary pupil in the United Kingdom is below average. Annual intended instruction time per pupil is above average. Above average instruction time with below average spending relates to the United Kingdom having the highest ratio of primary pupils to teaching staff.

16 Spend per secondary student in the United Kingdom is the lowest of the comparator countries. The secondary student-teaching staff ratio is slightly above the comparator average and annual intended instruction time per student in England is average.

Student performance

17 Despite the relatively lower expenditure on education per pupil at primary levels, England is among the comparator countries with the highest levels of performance by 10-year-olds in key subject areas.

Performance from 2003 data for 14-year-olds in England and 15-year-olds in the United Kingdom is uncertain because of low survey response rates from schools, but shows some similarities with previous surveys.

18 Gender differences in student performance are more pronounced in reading than science or mathematics. Results from studies on reading performance of 10-year-olds and 15-year-olds show females do better than males in all comparator countries. For 10-year-olds, England shows the second highest difference between the genders after New Zealand.

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Changes in spend per tertiary student between 1995 and 2002 Four-country average increase in spend per student 17% United Kingdom's increase in spend per student No change Two-country average decrease in spend per student -11% executive summary

Tertiary education

19 Expenditure per tertiary student in the United Kingdom is just below average. The United Kingdom has the second highest ratio of tertiary students to teaching staff.

20 The United Kingdom no longer has the highest graduation rate, though it is still well above average. The United Kingdom entry rate has moved to below average. The proportion of people who enter university and complete their degrees successfully remains higher than most other countries, with only Japan performing better.

21 Tertiary education is rapidly becoming an international domain and the United Kingdom remains a popular destination for foreign students, though its market share has shown the largest decline among all comparator countries.

Continuing education and training among the adult population

22 The United Kingdom has low levels of participation in the immediate post-16 years. The United Kingdom's participation rates in later life are higher than other countries, and it is second only to Australia in terms of lifelong participation.

23 Immediately after compulsory education, the United Kingdom's participation rates for education fall behind the average for comparator countries. The United Kingdom also has the third highest percentage of 15 to 19-year-olds who are not in education and who are unemployed or not in the labour market.

24 For the 20 to 29 age group participation is at the eight country average. Among 30 to 39-year-olds and people over 40, the United Kingdom has the highest participation rates.

In terms of lifelong participation, measured as "expected years in education" (a forward projection on the basis of today's enrolment rates at different stages of education), the United Kingdom ranks second. In the United Kingdom expected years in education average out to 20.4 years.

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25 A large proportion of the population do not complete upper secondary education. The United Kingdom's position relative to other countries has deteriorated. Ranked by upper secondary educational attainment, the United Kingdom occupies the seventh position among 55 to 64-year-olds (i.e. people who completed school some 40-50 years ago) but only the ninth position among 25 to 34-year-olds who completed school some 10-20 years ago.

26 Though many countries have problems with poor adult literacy and numeracy, the United Kingdom has more severe problems than most. The United Kingdom had the highest proportion of people with literacy and numeracy skills at the lowest level among seven comparator countries (1994-98).

The United Kingdom shows an above average rate of participation of the labour force in non-formal job-related continuing education and training but, like most other countries, job-related education and training in the United Kingdom is least common among people who have not completed secondary education.

Participation rates among people who have not completed upper secondary education are less than half of those with upper secondary education and around a quarter of those with tertiary education. The intensity of participation, in terms of hours per student, in non-formal job-related education and training is comparatively low.

Educational impacts

28 The labour market and financial incentives for completing higher education in the United Kingdom are higher than for most of the comparator countries.

29 People who have not completed upper secondary education in the United Kingdom are less likely to be unemployed than in comparator countries but the financial consequence for not competing upper secondary education is greater than for most of the comparator countries.

30 Women continue to earn less on average than men, whatever their level of education. This disparity decreases with increasing educational attainment.

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UK National Audit Office

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