- 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 science, reading and mathematics and is carried out on a three-year cycle. The main subject or “domain" of PISA 2012 was maths.
- One of the key findings from PISA 2012 was that the United Kingdom performs around the average in mathematics and reading and above average in science, compared with the 34 OECD countries that participated in the 2012 PISA assessment of 15 year olds.1
- Where compared with PISA 2006 and PISA 2009 there has been no change in performance in any of the subjects tested. The performance of the UK is similar to the performance of Denmark, France, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway.
- 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 is needed to achieve school improvement.
- The PISA findings show that successful countries have system stability and policies which are understood – that means they have planned reforms which are taking place over an extended period of time, rather than constant piecemeal change and review. This is a vital message for the Secretary of State to heed.
- PISA concludes that paying teachers well is an important part of the equation behind successful school systems. ''Higher salaries can help school systems to attract the best candidates to the teaching profession''.2 When comparing high-income countries, including the UK, PISA shows that the high-performing school systems tend to pay more to teachers relative to national income per capita.
- Evidence from PISA ''shows that school systems that segregate students according to their performance tend to be those systems where students are also segregated by socio economic status''.3 In other words, academic selection, setting or streaming leads to divisions by class and reduces social cohesion.
- Improving countries are reducing selection. PISA concludes that it is vital to focus on supporting all children and on motivating all children. PISA reveals that when education systems stream students into different schools based on ability, student motivation to learn and student performance suffers, on average.
- PISA shows that school systems that make less use of ''stratification'' such as separating students into different schools, tracks and grade levels according to ability or behaviour- show greater equity in education opportunities and outcomes. PISA confirms what teachers in England know- that in competitive systems, '' there may be more incentives for schools to select the best students, and fewer incentives to support difficult students if there is an option of transferring them to a different school''.4
- In the UK, even some comprehensive schools are becoming unrepresentative: The overall rate of Free School Meals uptake at the top 500 comprehensives measured on the traditional scale of five good GCSEs is just below half the national average: 7.6% compared with 16.5%, in almost 3,000 state secondary schools.5
- PISA shows that education policy must cultivate and foster the belief that all students can achieve at higher levels in order to give students the drive and motivation to enable them to learn. This calls into question the UK Government's crude proposals to apply de-motivating labels to children such as 'being primary ready' or 'secondary ready' or allocating children to deciles.
- The PISA findings suggest that a Government which creates or allows school systems based on competition and selection, are ignoring the effects on students' attitudes towards their learning. Germany is moving towards reducing the levels of stratification and Poland is delaying the age of selection. PISA shows that students in more comprehensive systems report that ''making an effort' in mathematics and ''learning mathematics'' are viewed as important for their future career.
- The PISA project exists to explain how schools can improve equity, as well as attainment. Andreas Schleicher has said6, in relation to the 15 year olds tested in 2012, that ‘’ the UK is faring well, in terms of managing to share resources and teachers equitably’’. The Secretary of State’s current policies threaten to derail this by increasing school type and shrinking the number of qualified teachers.
- PISA shows that high and ambitious parental expectations give their children more perseverance, greater intrinsic motivation to learn mathematics, and more confidence on their own ability to solve problems. This suggests that UK schools are right to dedicate significant time to engaging parents and that education policy must enable time for this.
- PISA recognises the value of giving individual schools autonomy over curricula and assessment but concludes that teacher autonomy is only a positive factor where it is coupled with what it describes as ''greater teacher collaboration between teacher and principal in school management''. Taking teachers’ views and professional expertise into account should therefore be regarded as essential by all school leaders.
- PISA data suggests that the Government is wilfully ignoring the risks of increasing competition between schools. Andreas Schleicher confirmed at the UK press launch for PISA 2012 that: ‘’there is no relationship between the prevalence of competition and overall performance’’.
1See: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results.htm [Accessed 3 December 2013]
2 Page 26, PISA 2012 Results in Focus
3 page 14, PISA 2012 Results in Focus, OECD
4Page 29, PISA 2012 Results on Focus
5 Sutton Trust (2013) "Selective Comprehensives: The social composition of top comprehensive schools"
6 Speaking at the London press conference on Monday 2 December in London