The Education Policy Institute hosted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) exclusive briefing of its annual report on the state of education around the world. ‘Education at a Glance’ compares education trends and performance across 35 OECD countries – giving member countries an indication of how they compare internationally.

Published today, the report includes 8 headline findings for the UK:

  1. The UK spends well above the OECD average on education

Total UK expenditure on all levels of education from primary to tertiary is the highest among OECD countries as a proportion of GDP (6.7 per cent compared to OECD average of 5.2 per cent). Per student spending is also above the average with $11,545 being spent per student across primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education level (compared to the OECD average of $9,258). This is largely driven by a 21 per cent increase in spending between 2008 and 2013, during which time average spending across the OECD increased by just 8 per cent.

  1. But spending is significantly lower on early childhood education

Expenditure on early childhood educational development institutions is lower than the OECD average, representing 0.04 per cent of GDP compared to the OECD average of 0.2 per cent. This differential may, however, represent the earlier primary school starting age in the UK. Despite this, enrolment is high. 84 per cent of 3 year-olds and 95 per cent of 4 year-olds were enrolled in pre-primary education in 2014, compared to OECD averages of 69 per cent and 85 per cent, respectively.

  1. Teachers’ salaries are among the fastest falling

In a third of countries, statutory salaries of teachers decreased in real terms continuously between 2010 and 2014, including England and Scotland. Statutory salaries of teachers in England and Scotland are also comparatively low at the start of their careers, but are almost 60 per cent higher after 10 years. This salary progression after ten years of service is the highest among all OECD countries. After including bonuses and allowances, the average salary is actually higher than the OECD average. 

  1. Which could explain why the UK’s teaching workforce is one of the youngest – and getting younger

UK teachers are among the youngest in the OECD. This is the case in both primary and secondary level education, though particularly the former. 27 per cent of primary school teachers are under 30 compared to the average of 13 per cent – the highest proportion of any OECD country. At secondary level, the proportion of teachers aged 50 or older has seen the largest decrease in any OECD country since 2005. The trend exists among principals as well, 51 per cent of whom are younger than 50 years-old, compared to 35 per cent among all OECD countries.

  1. The ratio of funding between vocational education and general education is one of the lowest

Per student expenditure on vocational programmes is 70 per cent of per student expenditure on general programmes – one of the lowest proportions of OECD countries. Only 35 per cent of 15-19 year-olds were enrolled in vocational programmes compared to the OECD average of 40 per cent. Despite the fact that proportionally less is spent on vocational funding in the UK than other OECD countries, those with either a vocational or general non-tertiary qualification have lower unemployment and higher employment rates than their counterparts in other OECD countries. 

  1. University education in England is among the most expensive in the OECD, but more people are going

Higher education in England is among the most expensive in the OECD, driven by recent increases in tuition fees, while supported by a strong public loan system. 9 out of 10 tertiary students graduating in England last year had debt exceeding $30,000, though students benefit from a relatively high minimum annual income threshold before repayment. But the proportion of adults in the UK who have a tertiary qualification is high – 43 per cent of 25-64 year-olds compared to the OECD average of 36 per cent. 22 per cent of people have a bachelor’s degree, compared to the OECD average of 16 per cent.

  1. The gender gaps remains at around average levels

Like in most OECD countries, first-time graduates in the UK are more likely to be female (56 per cent). Women are also more likely to graduate from certain subjects such as education programmes (3 women for every man), rather than male-dominated subjects such as engineering, manufacturing and construction (3 men for every woman). Women have higher employment rates than the OECD average, especially those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary qualifications, though the rates are lower than those for men. Overall, the gender gap – the difference in employment rates between the sexes – is around the OECD average. In line with every other OECD country, women also earn less than men in the UK, though the earnings gap is smaller than the average.

  1. Immigrants are more likely to go to university than students born here

In England and Northern Ireland children of foreign-born parents are far more likely to attain tertiary level education than children of native-born parents. In England, 58 per cent of 25-44 year-olds with foreign-born parents attain tertiary level education, compared to 46 per cent of those with native-born parents. This pattern represents an anomaly among OECD countries, where there is roughly similar levels of tertiary attainment among children of foreign and native-born parents.