Data Stories


Looking at the UK's educational performance through international data comparisons

OECD 2017-2019: Qualifications and Employment
Data collected from: OECD Education Data View Sourceicon / arrow right
  • The OECD study evaluates the proportion of the working-age population (25-64 year-olds) who are in employment, controlling for individuals’ highest qualification level. This being: below secondary; secondary and tertiary level.
  • Overall, there is a positive association between qualification level and likelihood of working; almost 7 in 10 individuals with a tertiary degree in full-time work compared to slightly over 4 in 10 individuals who had not completed their secondary-level studies.
  • The UK’s score is close to the OECD average.


  • UK value is based on the average for England and Northern Ireland (and therefore is not representative of Scotland or Wales).
  • Abbreviations: FT (Full-time); PT (Part-time).

Proportion of the working-age population in full-time, part-time or no form of paid employment based on their highest qualification level.

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OECD 2012-2015: Barriers to academic participation
  • The OECD study evaluates barriers to learning in the working age population across 27 OECD and 2 non-OECD countries (Singapore and Russia).
  • Each figure represents the proportion of the working-age population (25-64 year olds) who agreed that the statement represented a barrier to academic participation (e.g., expense, personal responsibilities).
  • Overall, the time dedicated to working was the most popular reason for not entering a course across the sample.
  • Other common causes for non-participation included expenses and individual responsibilities.
  • Interestingly, the vast majority did not see their prior attainment as a barrier to qualification uptake.


  • UK value is based on the average for England and Northern Ireland (and therefore is not representative of Scotland or Wales).

Reasons for non-participation in study in the working age (25-64 year-old) population across 29 countries.

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OECD 2019: Employment rate by birthplace and prior attainment
  • Figures represent the difference (%) in employment rates between foreign-born and native-born populations across OECD countries, using employment for the native-born population as the baseline category.
  • Positive integers highlight that there is a higher employment rate in the native-born than foreign-born population.
  • In the UK, there was less than a 2 percentage point gap between the proportion of the foreign-born and native-born population classified as (un)employed, as of 2019.
  •  On average, across OECD countries, the employment gap between members of the native and foreign-born population increases with higher levels of attainment (-1.3%, 6.5% and 10.8%, respectively).
  • Therefore, whilst there is typically a higher proportion of the foreign-born than native-born population in employment across the low attainment bracket, the trend is reversed for groups demonstrating (above) average attainment.


  • Added values of 0 reflect data gaps in the OECD database, excluding total employment differences for Ireland (employment rates were identical for the foreign and native-born population).
  • Data gaps were excluded from calculations computing OECD averages.

Variations in employment by place of birth and attainment bracket across OECD countries.

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  • Across OECD countries, there is considerable variety in the subjects studied at tertiary/undergraduate degree level.
  • Certain subjects were markedly more popular than others: Business (24.6%); Health (15.4%); Engineering (14.2%); Education (10%); Arts (9.7%) and Social Sciences (9.6%).
  • The proportion of students in the UK studying subjects related to engineering, health, business and education was slightly below the OECD average.
  • Comparatively, the proportion of qualifications in Social Sciences and the Arts was higher than the average across the listed OECD countries.
  • However, it is important to note that the data may distort broader uptake patterns in specific field areas. For example, engineering and health-related professions can be pursued at Level 3 study and/or without an undergraduate qualification in the UK.

Graduates in individual fields of study as a proportion of total tertiary graduates by country in 2019.

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OECD 2021: 20-24 year olds not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET)
  • OECD study investigating the proportion (%) of  young people who are NEET across OECD countries, as of 2021.
  • In the UK, slightly under 3 in 20 (13.6%) of 20-24 year olds were not in any form of employment, education or training last year.
  •  This is 2 percentage points lower than the OECD average (15.8%).
  • South Africa observed the highest (52%) and Netherlands the lowest (8%) proportion of 20-24 year olds identified as NEET.

20-24 year-olds identified as not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) as a percentage of the total age group across OECD countries as of last year.




OECD 2020: Gender Imbalances in Tertiary Education
  • In the UK, there is a 5 percentage point gender gap in the percentage of 16-54 year-olds who have completed tertiary education; 52% of women and 47% of men.
  • Across 86% (37) of the 43 countries, more women than men have completed tertiary qualifications.
  • Indonesia, Austria, Chile and Mexico are the countries with the most balanced representation of men and women with tertiary qualifications in the general population.
  • Comparatively, Estonia and Latvia observed the largest gender imbalances; a 20 and 17 percent point gap, respectively.

Percentage of 25-64 year-olds who have completed tertiary education by gender as of 2020.

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Levelling Up: Over two thirds of the UK population have completed post-16 qualifications
  • The UK ranks 8th in the 2019 Statista Survey measuring the percentage of the national population progressing onto post-secondary qualifications.
  •  Costa Rica observed the lowest (17.6%) and Czech Republic the highest (69.5%) proportion of school leavers with secondary qualifications as their highest level of education in 2019.
  • On average, 6 in 10 continued their studies after secondary school across OECD countries.
  • This partly reflects the variation of compulsory school leavings ages and secondary school completion rates.

The percentage of the population with upper secondary qualifications as their highest level of education.




Maths: the UK’s PISA score has risen significantly
  • The UK’s maths performance is significantly ahead of the average for OECD nations. 
  • In 2018, the UK’s score rose significantly. The UK was ranked 17th of the nations surveyed, up from 28th in 2015. 
  • Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and China’s main cities achieve the highest scores and rankings.
  • Amongst Western countries, Estonia, Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland are among those with higher scores than the UK. 

The OECD PISA Survey




Science: ranked 14th by PISA, the UK is ahead of many European nations
  • The UK was ranked 14th in science in 2018 and has held a similar position for the last decade.
  • The UK, like many nations including Japan, Korea, Finland and Canada, has seen its score gently falling since 2012.
  • Singapore has maintained the most consistent score.
  • China has the highest score but based on research in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang only.

International Comparison of Science Skills at age 15

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Reading: the UK’s PISA score is similar to the US and Australia
  • The UK’s reading score has changed little since 2012. 
  • The UK’s score is similar to the United States, Australia and New Zealand. 
  • In 2018 the highest scores are achieved by Asian countries – Singapore, Hong Kong and China’s main cities. 
  • Amongst western countries, Estonia, Finland, Canada and Ireland achieve the highest scores. 

International Comparison of Reading Skills at age 15

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Education Policy

What comes after ‘urgent’ for the new Education Secretary?

After the burning issues are addressed, what should come next for the new Education Secretary?

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Education Policy

Labour’s oracy plans: They need clear goals

Sir Keir Starmer has said he wants to boost students’ confidence by raising the importance of speaking skills – oracy. In this previously published blog, Reza Schwitzer, AQA’s director of external affairs, applauds the ambition but warns there needs to be clear goals

Education Policy

Through the looking glass: How polling the public can help policymakers learn about themselves

Public attitude data is key to effective policymaking. Proper polling can reveal what people think about existing policies and what they want for the future. But, if looked at from a different angle, it can also help policymakers question themselves and their assumptions about the public. In this blog, AQA’s Policy and Evidence Manager Adam Steedman-Thake, reveals the lessons he learned about himself while reading a recent public attitude survey.


Assessing oracy: Is Comparative Judgement the answer?

Oracy skills are vital to success in school and life. And yet, for many children, opportunities to develop them are missed. Educationalists are engaging in a growing debate about where oracy fits into the school system. Labour has put it at the heart of its plans to improve social mobility and an independent commission is looking at how it is taught in the classroom. This renewed focus on oracy means it is more important than ever that teachers have a way to reliably assess and understand their students’ attainment and progression. Amanda Moorghen of oracy education charity Voice 21 explains how Comparative Judgement can help with that and why it may be a game changer.


TV subtitles as an aid to literacy: What does the research say?

Jack Black is probably best known in educational circles for playing a renegade substitute teacher in School of Rock. But the Hollywood star has made a more conventional foray into education by backing the use of TV subtitles to improve child literacy. Stephen Fry and the World Literacy Foundation also want parents to use their TV remotes to get children reading. So, could this simple click of a button be a solution to boost pupils’ reading skills? AQA’s resident expert on language teaching, Dr Katy Finch, casts her eye over the research to see whether it stacks up.

Data Analysis

What is left behind now education’s Data Wave has receded?

Is data the solution to all education’s issues? About a decade ago the prevailing wisdom said it was. Advocates of this Data Wave argued that harvesting internal statistics would help schools solve issues such as teacher accountability and attainment gaps. As with all waves, after crashing onto the beach they recede, leaving space for another to roll in. In this blog, teacher, author and data analyst Richard Selfridge looks at the legacy of the Data Wave to see what schools can take from it.

International Approaches

Finland & PISA – A fall from grace but still a high performer?

Finland was once recognised as one of the most successful educational systems in the world. At the turn of the millennium, it topped the PISA rankings in reading, maths and science. But by 2012, decline set in. The last set of results showed performances in maths, reading and science were at an all-time low. In this blog Dr Jonathan Doherty of Leeds Trinity University outlines some reasons that may account for the slide.


PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS: What actually are they and what do they tell us?

According to the latest PISA results, England’s science scores are still on a downward trajectory that started a decade ago. Yet TIMSS, another respected study, has science performances rising. Which of them is right? Is one more valid than the other? In this blog AQi examines three International Large-Scale Assessments and finds that, although they may look the same from a distance, get up close and you’ll find they are very different beasts.

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Adaptive Assessment

Adaptive Assessment: A missing ingredient in the resit recipe?

The number of students resitting their maths GCSE is growing, but the proportion getting a grade 4 or higher is falling. This situation is not only dispiriting for the young people striving to get the qualifications they need, but also for the teachers working hard to help them. How can outcomes for this cohort be improved? Bart Crisp, associate director at the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, thinks adaptive assessment may be part of the solution.


Student success: Every milestone matters

Baroness Morgan is calling for students to be given ‘self-belief’ lessons as a way of developing their characters and preparing them for the future. She is not the first to notice that a student’s sense of their own ability and their level of success are part of a virtuous circle. But how can teachers get the snowball rolling for students with SEND or in alternative provision? In this blog, former headteacher, John Tomsett, pulls out a swimming certificate he earned more than half a century ago to use as an inspiration for others.

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