International Rankings... And their impact on our national curriculum

This post is about understanding the international ranking system, how the rankings affect our national curriculum, which in turn affects our children.

In 1999, the UK government published a report titled,

All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’.

This is what it said about creativity.

There are many misconceptions about creativity. Some people associate creative teaching with a lack of discipline in education. Others see creative ability as the preserve of a gifted few, rather than of the many; others associate it only with the arts. In our view, creativity is possible in all areas of human activity and all young people and adults have creative capacities. Developing these capacities involves a balance between teaching skills and understanding, and promoting the freedom to innovate, and take risks.

In early 2010, a new Primary Creative Curriculum was announced to begin that September.

This sounds amazing! So why wasn't it implemented?

In early 2010, a new Primary Creative Curriculum was announced to begin that September.

In May 2010, the Conservative Party won the General Election and the new government scrapped the Creative Curriculum.What was the motivation behind scrapping the well-researched and long planned creative curriculum? Was this just a question of politics…?

The short answer is YES. Our state schools are in a difficult position. Our government is trying to ensure our country wins a higher place in the global rankings (Programme of International Student Assessment or PISA).

Let us explain.

PISA is a directive of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is an intergovernmental economic organisation founded in 1935.  It should be noted that 22 of the 35 member countries are in the EU.  

PISA assesses approximately 70 economies around the world every 3 years by testing 15 year olds in reading, mathematics, and science.  

The idea is that the results can help identify strengths and weaknesses so that governments can make appropriate adjustments in the curriculum, which in theory leads to children getting the best education possible.  

In reality,  the assessment is used as a giant competition.  And instead of changing the curriculum to enrich our children’s education, the rankings are being used to drive test oriented teaching.  That is, our children are being taught to pass tests and get results particularly in reading, mathematics and science, regardless of the damage such a fast-paced and narrow curriculum is having on our youth.  

In 2010 The Uk Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said

'We have taken a serious wrong turn and we need to be brought back to the road travelled by the most successful education systems around the world.’.He described an apocalyptic vision for England, a world with ‘millions of Asian students graduating from schools which outpace our own joining the international trade system’ and ‘other nations ruthlessly plundering best practice from the highest-performing jurisdictions to get better and better’. ‘We must change fast,’ he warned, ‘or we are going to be culturally and materially impoverished’.'

There are some genuine economic benefits of achieving a high ranking. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of national pride on the line as well.  We also like to think at least some of it’s about what’s best for our children, however,

our political system means that people are looking for quick wins with measurable results.


Stress is passed down from the government, onto schools, then onto teachers whose jobs depend on test results set by our government.

Most of our teachers do their best to help each child succeed.  With large classes and a preset curriculum, teachers are often forced to use a one size fits all approach. They do the best they can for as many as they can.  Unfortunately, this means that the system is plainly failing a lot of children. Schools simply do not have the time or human resources to meet each individual need.  

What can you do if you find that your child is one of the children being failed?

Until 2009, Finland had topped the PISA rankings and their child centred, relaxed and creative curriculum was looked upon by many experts as a model for success. Children in Finland are taught in small classes and often stay with the same teacher for up to six years. Their child centred ‘whatever it takes for a child to succeed’ approach was admired by governments across the world.

In 2009, a new set of results were published. This time Shanghai in China was in first place followed closely by South Korea. In 2012 Shanghai held onto their first place joined by six other Asian countries in the top ten. Finland dropped to seventh place in the rankings.

The policy makers began to look east for inspiration.

The UK and US curriculum's have become more rigorous to mirror that of the Chinese. China is a country whose children excel by way of intense pressure and rote learning. Even the former UK prime minister said that our country needs more ‘Tiger Mums’.  This is a term used for really strict and demanding mothers who force their children to excellence, particularly in academic subjects.

But is this the style of education we want for our children?  

If you’re thinking that it doesn’t sound too bad …  THINK AGAIN.

Think about how you feel when you’re completely stressed out.   There are some serious physical and emotional repercussions to prolonged exposure to stress.  Now consider, what is that kind of stress doing to developing minds and bodies?  

New studies are being done everyday to answer just that.  In 2015, a new report was quoted in The Guardian saying Teachers in England were seeing unprecedented levels of school-related anxiety, stress and mental health problems among pupils of all age groups and abilities, particularly around test or exam time.

Children aged 10 or 11 are said to be “in complete meltdown”, in tears, or feeling sick during tests, and problems can be made worse by their competitive parents, according to the Exam Factories? report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and conducted independently by Merryn Hutchings, emeritus professor at London Metropolitan University. 

As parents, we need to give our children tools to cope with stress.

We can’t change the system overnight, but we can protect our children and help them navigate their school years as painlessly as possible.

Join our private Facebook group Parents for Happy Learners UK where you can find other parents and discuss everything concerning your child’s education.

Best Wishes,

Pearl & Louise

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