This article is based on work led by UNICEF.
Each new round of the OECD’s global education survey leads to scrutiny of country rankings based on the average child’s performance, but the new Innocenti Report Card argues that equality in test scores is just as important as average standards. Yekaterina Chzhen and Gwyther Rees, lead authors of the report, illustrate this point in relation to the four nations of the UK.
The UK comes 16th on equality in children’s education in UNICEF’s latest Innocenti Report Card, barely in the top half of the 38-country league table. If the four nations of the UK were included as separate entities, Wales and Northern Ireland would top the ranking, Scotland would rank 9th and England would move down to 20th place.
‘Naming and shaming’ comparisons based on standardised international school tests have become an important influence on public debates and on educational policy-making. Issues of equality and inequality are rarely mentioned. But, analysis of equality creates a very different picture of which countries are doing ‘well’ or ‘badly’. It also raises important questions about how policymakers can best use international comparisons to improve education systems for all children.
In other fields of social policy it is accepted that not only averages but also equality is important. For example, policies that aimed for longer life expectancy for the healthiest people while leaving the least healthy behind would not be viewed as optimal or ethical. In terms of education, large inequalities mean that many children are not getting a fair opportunity to fulfil their potential.