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UK education sixth in global ranking
The first and second places are taken by Finland and South Korea. The rankings combine international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010.
International comparisons in education have become increasingly significant - and this latest league table is based upon a series of global test results combined with measures of education systems, such as how many people go on to university. The weightings for the rankings have been produced for Pearson by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The two education superpowers - Finland and South Korea - are followed by three other high-performing Asian education systems - Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.
The UK - which is considered as a single system, rather than four devolved administrations - is then ranked at the head of an above-average group including the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland. These are ahead of a middle-ranking group including the United States, Germany and France. At the lowest end are Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia.
These comparisons draw upon tests that are taken every three or four years, in areas such as maths, science and literacy - and so present a picture lagging by several years. But the intention is to provide a more multi-dimensional view of educational achievement - and create a databank which will be updated, in a project that Pearson is calling the Learning Curve.
Looking at education systems that succeed, the study concludes that spending is important, but not as much as having a culture that is supportive of learning. It says that spending is easier to measure, but the more complex impact of a society's attitude to education can make a big difference.
The success of Asian countries in these rankings reflects the high value attached to education and the expectations of parents. This can continue to be a factor when families migrate to other countries, says the report accompanying the rankings.