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Out of the five best performing education systems inthe world, four are in Asia. Out of the top ten, seven are in the Asia Pacificregion. The OECD collects data on reading, maths and science scores on astandardised basis. Top of the table is Shanghai, China, with top places foreach. They are followed by South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

The top ten is completed by Canada, New Zealand,Japan, Australia and the Netherlands. Britain, France, Germany and the US areat the bottom of the OECD’s table of 18 countries. In a special report for theEconomist, four factors are highlighted as contributing most heavily to schoolsuccess: decentralisation; focusing on underachieving students, high standardsfor teachers and a choice for schools. 

Such issues are already forming the basis for thedebate in the UK, with the championing of free schools and the resultingdecentralisation that this brings. It may prove a useful test of whether theseideas deliver results in practice. One worrying factor is Sweden’s surprisepoor showing in the tests – much of the free school agenda is based on Swedishand American models.

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