• The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international survey of educational achievement organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA assesses the knowledge and skills of students aged 15 in three subjects - science, reading and mathematics - the main subject or “domain" of PISA 2015 was science. Pisa is carried out on a three-year cycle.
  • The Pisa tests in 2015 were taken by 540,000 students in 72 OECD countries. The results were published in December 2016.
  • One of the key findings from PISA 2012 was that pupils in the United Kingdom perform above average in science and reading among OECD countries and around average in mathematics.1 As was the case across OECD countries, the average science, mathematics and reading performance of 15-year-olds in the UK had remained stable since 2006.
  • The UK’s 15-year-olds performed particularly well in science, with a greater proportion of students achieving the highest levels in the PISA science assessment compared to the average across OECD countries. In 2015, 29% of students in the UK expected to work in a science-related occupation by age 30, and the country saw the second largest increase on this measure since 2006 across all countries.
  • As in many other OECD countries, socio-economically disadvantaged students in the UK were less likely to succeed at school than their more advantaged peers. However, equity in education outcomes in the UK in science was better than the OECD average.
  • Likewise, once socio-economic status is accounted for, there was no difference in science performance between non-immigrant and immigrant students in the UK.
  • In terms of gender, boys and girls were equally likely to score at Level 5 or 6, the highest levels of proficiency, in science and they were equally likely to expect to work in a science-related occupation at age 30.
  • On each PISA release, politicians rush to use the results to put teachers and children under pressure and to suggest immediate, urgent reviews and reforms. Yet this runs counter to what the evidence from PISA suggests.  
  • Although PISA data are used opportunistically by politicians, they also provide a wealth of information about factors that shape educational attainment and outcomes.
  • As with many OECD countries, students across the UK are likely to attend schools whose head teachers believe that their education is hindered by a lack of educational material: 29% of students in England, and 31% of students in Wales attend such schools, according to Pisa 2015. The Government should address this as a matter of urgency by allocating the necessary funds to ensure all children have access to the high-quality education they deserve.
  • Pisa 2015 also found that the later students are selected into different academic programmes/schools and the lower the percentage of students who have to repeat a grade, the greater the equity in science performance. This finding undermines the Government’s approach to UTCs and Studio Schools where students are selected into different schools at age 14; and its insistence on resits of GCSE English and maths for students who don’t achieve a grade C or above.
  • Crucially, these findings give the lie to the Tory Government’s plans to expand selective education in England (see EduFact on Grammar Schools). The evidence from Pisa is clear, such an approach would undermine equity and all the progress made by comprehensive education in England.

1 OECD Country Note, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Results From Pisa 2015 – United Kingdom  https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-United-Kingdom.pdf

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