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Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

Researchers: Luke Sibieta | Professor John Jerrim ...

Project overview


This project seeks to understand how and why cognitive skills evolve differently during childhood across the four nations of the UK. In addition, it will inform our understanding of when in childhood these gaps emerge and the relative success of policymakers in each country at closing skills gaps.

Most UK comparisons of educational performance are based on PISA data, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. Recent data suggests that while performance in England is close to the OECD average, scores in Northern Ireland and Scotland have decreased, while those in Wales have fallen well below the OECD average.

This project will compare these trends through three connected strands of work:

  1. A comparison of how the cognitive skills of children in the four UK nations have evolved over time
  2. An investigation of how school institutions, organisation and practices differ between UK nations
  3. An exploration of how GCSE-level attainment differs between England and Wales.

The researchers will make use of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) verbal and numerical assessments to track average differences, as well as gaps by socio-economic background and gender, over time by country. They will also create a timeline of major institutional changes in school and education policy by reviewing the relevant policy and academic literature and conducting interviews with key policymakers in each nation. By establishing a clearer picture of cross-national differences, alongside a better understanding of when and why inequalities emerge, this project aims to help inform policymakers and better focus their efforts to improve children’s outcomes.

COVID-19

The researchers will also document the education policy choices made by each of the UK four nations during the COVID-19 crisis, and any emerging evidence on the relative effectiveness of those choices in achieving their initial delivery aims.

Team


  • Luke Sibieta
    Education Policy Institute
  • Professor John Jerrim
    UCL Institute of Education
  • Professor Chris Taylor
    University of Cardiff

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

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