March 25, 2011 • 1:23 pm


“Maths teachers in England are among the most poorly trained in the developed world, a report revealed yesterday.”

Daily Mail, 22 March 2011

Earlier this month, Full Fact found that the Daily Mail had been selective in its interpretation of an Ofsted report, claiming that the schools watchdog had found that history teaching was becoming marginalised in schools. On closer inspection it was apparent that Ofsted had been more circumspect in passing judgment, and had attached significant caveats to the specific claims the Mail had made.

So when the same paper reported a few days later that maths teaching was suffering from a similar malaise, we thought we’d check their working.

The story originates from a study undertaken by Plymouth University’s Centre for Better Teaching, which the Mail has duly reported under the headline “Why our maths teachers are among the worst in the world.”

This, however, isn’t quite what Plymouth University found. In fact, its study was confined to a comparison of maths teaching in nine countries, themselves selected because they are “mathematically high performing.” Far from being “amongst the worst in the world”, the report actually notes that England is one of the better performing countries in maths.

Neither does the Mail’s claim that “teachers in England are among the most poorly trained in the developed world” do justice to Plymouth University’s findings.

Whilst the list of countries covered by the study does include many that would be considered ‘developed’ (encompassing England, Ireland, Russia, China, Finland, Japan, Hungary, Singapore and the Czech Republic) it is by no means exhaustive, and doesn’t include many of the nations to which the UK is commonly compared, such as the United States, France or Germany.

Furthermore, the conclusions drawn by the Plymouth researchers are often in direct contradiction to the Daily Mail’s claims. For example, the report notes that: “The first conclusion from these results for England is that (as with other recent international comparisons) we are not disgraced and are comparable to many other countries.”

On a related note, the Daily Mail also uses OECD data to claim that “England had tumbled from eighth place in 2000, to 28th place last year in international league tables for maths.” The problem with making this comparison has already been highlighted by Full Fact.

Given these inaccuracies and inconsistencies, Full Fact will be getting in touch with the paper to request a clarification.

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