As Britain struggles to work out whether it is better off in or out of the EU, it might pay heed to the devastating analysis that shows the really frightening obstacles to a thriving future lie at home. The OECD, the Paris-based think-tank, last month ranked British teenagers bottom of 23 developed countries in literacy, and 22nd out of 23 in numeracy.
That was not the first blow. Another OECD survey in May put British 15-year-olds 20th in the world in maths and science (above the US at 28th, it must be said); Singapore was top, followed by Hong Kong and South Korea. International rankings are controversial, not least because they sometimes compare cities or regions against whole countries; Shanghai’s glittering record hardly reflects the performance of China’s rural poor. Still, the tables help monitor a country’s progress, or lack of it — and point to teaching techniques that can be borrowed.