Much of the global boom in spending on schools has been wasted by governments who have poured money into unreformed education systems, a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development said on Tuesday.

Wastage is so great that the results currently achieved by the world’s pupils could be achieved with 30 per cent less finance if better teaching techniques were introduced and more efficient ways of running schools developed.

On the other hand, if resource levels were maintained, education systems could improve their results by 22 per cent if all education institutions performed at the same level of efficiency as the world’s most efficient schools.

The annual Education at a Glance Report said that of all the 24 countries surveyed the US and Italy were getting the most disappointing results out of their schools despite spending some of the largest amounts on their students.

Australia, Canada and Japan were among the countries that performed more strongly than might have been expected from their level of investment in schools, when the data was corrected to take into account differences in class background.

The US is the second highest spender on educational institutions in the OECD, but only a comparatively small proportion of those resources “reach the classroom”, according to Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education analysis department.

In 2004, 55 per cent of current expenditure was spent on teachers’ pay in the US, compared to an OECD average of 63.5 per cent. Non-teaching staff in the US education system received 25.7 per cent of available funds, compared to 15.5 in the rest of the OECD.

Countries around the world have attempted to turn themselves into “knowledge economies” by spending ever greater shares of their GDP on education in the belief that a highly educated workforce is key to economic competitiveness.

According to the OECD, the rich world increased its investment in education and training by 41 per cent between 1995 and 2004, with the greater share being spent on universities.

However, the biggest spenders do not get the best outcomes. For example, Korea and the Netherlands have some of the most-able 15 year-olds in the world, according to international tests of their aptitude in maths, science and reading, despite having cumulative education expenditure below the OECD average.

The report said productivity in education has generally declined in recent years “because the quality of schooling has broadly remained constant, while the price of inputs has markedly increased”.

Unlike other professions, the report said, the education sector has not “reinvented itself” to improve outcomes and productivity. Instead, it has remained labour intensive and teachers’ salaries tend to rise simply according to length of service and qualifications held.

Other factors responsible for the different outcomes include how many hours teaching pupils receive and the number of layers of management in a school system.

Across the OECD private schools were not found to much better than their government-run equivalents at spending money wisely, although efficiency savings are greater for larger schools.

Publishing its annual report on Tuesday, the OECD also highlighted its research which shows that graduates continue to enjoy higher salaries than people who did not go to university despite a world-wide expansion of university systems.

Not only do university graduates earn more money and find jobs more easily, those advantages have grown over recent years in many countries.

The organisation also said that there had been no “crowding-out” whereby more graduates create more unemployment for people with lower skills.

Between 1994 and 2004, France, Ireland and Korea had the fastest growth in higher education attainment and yet unemployment among less-well qualified people fell or rose very slightly.

By contrast, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic had little or no growth in higher education attainment over the same periods and suffered growing unemployment among the under skilled.

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