UK holds position as sixth best education system in the world


The UK has been placed sixth in a ranking of the world’s best performing education systems.

The Learning Curve, a report compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, aims to explain the influential factors behind the best performing education systems around the world.

The ranking is based on a range of indicators, including performance in three respected international testing programmes – Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Overall, the report ranks South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong in the top four spots.

It is the second time the report has been produced, with the UK having also been ranked in sixth place in the original 2012 study.

This success in holding its position has been put down to improvements in the UK’s PISA and PIRLS test scores and a rise in tertiary graduation rates.

Notably, Finland, which was ranked top in 2012, has dropped to fifth as a result of decreases in its reported reading, maths and science literacy. 

Elsewhere, the United States is ranked 14th, Canada 7th and Ireland 9th. The Netherlands and Poland are also in the top 10.

The report puts the success of the Asian “superpowers” down to a “culture of accountability in which teachers, students and parents all take responsibility for education”.

It also reports that in these countries, “society values teachers and schools far more highly than in many other parts of the world”.

It adds: “Countries and their governments must place importance on the role of teachers and treat the profession with respect. However, success comes when the student is held accountable to do well and the teacher can work flexibly, highlighting the importance of self-sufficiency.

“Teachers cannot teach effectively when the curriculum is tightly controlled. Moreover, it’s evident that parental expectations impact on the students’ performance and motivation too.”

The report adds that while many emerging economies are putting increased funding into education, this is not yet improving outcomes, with three of the world’s biggest emerging economies Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia ranked towards the bottom of the 39 nations included in the study.

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education advisor said: “Governments around the world are under pressure to deliver better learning outcomes because they are increasingly important to people’s lifelong success. The Learning Curve provides an ever-deeper knowledge base about precisely how education systems improve themselves.

“The rise of Pacific Asian countries, which combine effective education systems with a culture that prizes effort about inherited ‘smartness’, is a phenomenon that other countries can no longer ignore.”

Alongside its report, Pearson has also published a new open data bank of more than 2,500 educational, economic and social indicators relating to a total of 50 countries.

Drawing on PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS and combining them with statistics on education, GDP, employment, crime rates, and other factors, the data bank aims to create a comprehensive set of information for researchers and policy-makers to draw on.

To read the full report or access the data bank, visit




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