Unions comment on Pisa results

The Pisa tests, run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, show the UK rising in reading, maths and science

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, said there were “positive signals” from the UK’s results for the tests taken in 2018 – which he said showed “modest improvements”.

  • In reading, the UK is 14th, up from 22nd in the previous tests three years ago
  • In science, the UK is 14th, up from 15th
  • In maths, the UK is 18th up from 27th

The UK’s maths results represent a particular improvement on three years ago, according to an analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).
Commenting on the UK’s results, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“We are delighted that the UK’s performance in maths has improved by nine points since 2015, and that the scores in reading, maths and science are all above the OECD averages. Congratulations to the students involved and to their teachers.
“As these results come during a general election campaign, there will be a greater temptation than normal among politicians and commentators to attempt to use them to score points. However, we would caution people against over-claiming or over-blaming any one factor on the difference in results between countries and over time.
“There are many educational and non-educational factors which affect performance and it is not easy to unpick how these have impacted on young people’s attainment in a set of tests. What is worrying, however, is that this analysis shows that fewer students in the UK are satisfied with their lives than the OECD average.
“It is clear that many young people feel under great pressure in a society in which the stakes often seem very high to them in terms of achieving their goals. We must do more to understand the complex factors which affect wellbeing and ensure schools and colleges are sufficiently funded to be able to provide appropriate pastoral support.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“The findings from Pisa 2018 of the performance of 15-year-olds in English, maths and science reflect an education system before the market reforms introduced by former education secretary Michael Gove and pursued by subsequent secretaries of state. We will have to wait for the next round of Pisa tests taken in 2021, with the results published the following year, before a verdict can be given on the Conservative’s management of the English education system.
“Students in the UK should be congratulated on their performance in English, maths and science which reflect their hard work and that of their educators.  However, the finding that globally fewer than one in 10 students were able to distinguish between fact and opinion is extremely worrying in an era of fake news. The finding that students read less for leisure and read fewer books of fiction, magazines or newspapers because they want to – as opposed to because they have to – is also deeply concerning.
“England’s teachers must be given the professional autonomy to ensure that our pupils can read for pleasure within school time on a daily basis so that it becomes a habit for life. As the OECD points out, reading is no longer mainly about extracting information; it is about constructing knowledge, thinking critically and making well-founded judgements. We need to ensure that our education system focuses on developing these skills in our young people, not simply on cramming them with facts.
“It is noteworthy that the top performing countries in Pisa 2018 have been told by the OECD that they have a long way to go in improving students’ social and emotional outcomes, and other aspects of students’ well-being that were measured by Pisa 2018. International surveys have shown that young people in England are among the least happy in the world and we must strive to develop an education system that focuses on developing the whole child and inculcating a love of learning for life.
“Finally, Pisa 2018, like all other rounds of this international survey, provides a snapshot of the performance of education systems. Each time the survey is conducted, a larger number of countries take part and therefore the global rankings do not compare like with like. In addition, each Pisa series focuses on a different learning domain – In 2018 it is reading, in 2015 it was science. The ‘league table’ element of Pisa should therefore be treated with enormous caution since the rankings are comparing different subjects among a different number of countries.  The OECD also point out that many of the changes in countries’ scores (and therefore their apparent ranking) are not statistically significant. This includes two of the three scores given to the UK.”
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