This paper explores the principles behind international benchmarking, how it is being carried out in different countries, what factors policymakers need to take into account when introducing benchmarks, and some potential pitfalls that they need to be aware of.

While the threat of foreign competition has long been used to justify education reforms, the use of international comparisons has reached something of a crescendo in recent years. In an attempt to improve their school systems, policymakers are increasingly turning to other countries for inspiration and ideas.

The interest in using international benchmarks to drive improvement has the potential to move debates beyond 'shock reactions' to our rank position in league tables. But it also raises fundamental questions about the purpose and design of international assessments, and how they can be used in a progressive way that reflects their limitations.