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The following OECD assessment and recommendations summarise chapter 2 of the Economic survey of the United Kingdom published on 27 September 2007.
Globalisation reinforces the need to raise skill levels
Technological change over the past two decades has significantly raised the level of cognitive skills required for many jobs, including many that were considered relatively low-skilled in the past. Moreover, the strongest employment growth and the largest wage increases have been in professions that require cognitive skills involving good judgement and complex communication. Recognition of these facts by both the public and policymakers explains why there is now much greater pressure on the education system to equip more pupils with better skills. However, the educational performance of the UK population is below the standard of the best performing OECD countries. The government has responded by spending more on education and by expanding capacity in key areas such as pre-primary and upper secondary education. Some measures of performance, such as secondary school completion rates, have been improving although they have further to go. However, it is difficult to evaluate the extent of improvements in cognitive skills as the lags between spending and outcomes are long and some domestic measures of education performance may have been biased by target-driven output measures. To permit more comprehensive evaluation of progress, the government should ensure continued participation in international tests of cognitive ability, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC).
And more needs to be done to break the cycle of perpetuating inequality
As globalisation raises the return to higher education, the impact of education policy on the labour market outcomes of those from disadvantaged backgrounds is increasingly important, particularly in the United Kingdom, where occupational and education mobility is lower than in many other OECD countries. The government has addressed this with a broad range of policies, including funding formulas that aim to direct additional resources to areas with a higher proportion of pupils from deprived backgrounds. Performance in the most disadvantaged schools has improved, but overall the socio-economic gaps remain large. One explanation may be that local authorities and schools are not distributing funds as intended by the central government, resulting in inequitable outcomes. To correct this imbalance the government should promote the transition to a more efficient and equitable allocation of funds by reviewing the funding allocation procedures. More research should be done into determining how resource mixes within schools can help to narrow the socio-economic gaps and the pros and cons should be evaluated of introducing a differentiated voucher system of funding, where pupils from poorer families receive vouchers that are valued more highly than those for the general population. Also, given the importance of teacher quality, more should be done to encourage the best teachers to move to the most disadvantaged schools.
Social immobility is high in the United Kingdom(1)
1. The chart shows the intergenerational earnings elasticities as estimated in various studies. The higher the parameter, the higher is the persistence of earnings across generations and thus the lower is mobility.
Source: D’Addio, A.C. (2007), “Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 52.
More money for schools is no guarantee of better results
There is no strong empirical link between aggregate education spending and pupil achievement so that additional resources do not automatically translate into better results. Given the need for tight expenditure control, this suggests that the focus in education spending should shift to improving the efficiency of existing spending. The key priority should be to continue to promote a focus on the acquisition of core literacy and numeracy skills for pupils at all age levels. The government is considering raising the number of years of compulsory education or training but care should be taken to ensure that greater quantity of education is not sought at the expense of quality. One way the United Kingdom has tried to ensure spending efficiency is through the use of sophisticated school benchmarking together with the setting of targets. While the benchmarking exercise has provided a lot of information, the focus on targets may have made progress more difficult to evaluate, by inducing “gaming” of the targets. All targets should be designed in a way that limits the potential for gaming, by ensuring an interactive performance management system that captures the complexity of the education process. To improve evaluation, it should be ensured that performance measures are not the same as the targeted outputs, unless other mechanisms are in place to guard against gaming.
How to obtain this publication
The Policy Brief (pdf format) can be downloaded in English. It contains the OECD assessment and recommendations.The complete edition of the Economic survey of the United Kingdom 2007 is available from:
For further information please contact the UK Desk at the OECD Economics Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. The OECD Secretariat's report was prepared by Anne-Marie Brook, Åsa Johansson, Petar Vujanovic and Marte Sollie under the supervision of Peter Hoeller.