This appeared on the UK’s Daily Mail website and provokes thought about the adequacy of some educational systems and what can be done to make improvements.
British pupils have slipped down international league tables in key subjects over the past decade.
The most authoritative comparison is the Programme for International Student Assessment carried out by the OECD. It is based on tests given to 15-year-olds in up to 65 countries.
When first carried out in 2000, the UK was ranked fourth in science, seventh in literacy and eighth in maths. The science ranking fell to 12th in 2003, 14th in 2006 and 16th in 2009.
In literacy the country sank to 11th in 2003, 17th in 2006 and 25th in 2009.
The most dramatic slump is in maths, where the ranking was 18th in 2003, 24th in 2006 and 28th in 2009.
Critics point out that the sample in the survey has grown across the years, from 43 countries in 2000 to 65 in the last study in 2009. But, even when this is taken into account, the UK has still slipped proportionately down the tables.
Under Michael Gove’s plans for a revival, pupils will be able to sit the new O-levels at 16 or 17 and the best pupils will be allowed to bypass the exams and go straight to A-levels.
Schools will be given the freedom to enter pupils for the exams when they are ready, rather than forcing everyone to sit them at 16.
Modular study will be abolished, with emphasis put on in-depth work and end of year exams rather than coursework that can be redone until it passes muster.
Pupils studying English literature will be banned from taking the text of plays into exams and maths pupils will be expected to learn complex subjects such as calculus in order to obtain an A grade.
Mr Gove believes the exams need to be tougher to prepare pupils for A-levels, which are also being made more rigorous.
Meanwhile, businesses will be asked to draw up a new CSE-style qualification for less able pupils – around one quarter of pupils struggle even to get D or E grades at GCSE.
Mr Gove thinks it is pointless to make those children sit the same O-level as those who are preparing to read a rigorous academic subject at Oxford or Cambridge.