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How did we do in PISA?

We’d like to start the year off on a thoughtful note and comment on the PISA results that were published by the OECD last month. The Program for International Student Assessment tested 500,000 fifteen year olds across the globe in English, maths and science in order to compare standards in different countries.

The UK did not appear in the top 20: in fact, we came 26th out of 65. Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong were the top three (China is entered as cities and not as a country), with Qatar, Indonesia and Peru taking the bottom three spots.

If we break our results down, we were ranked 23rd for reading, 26th for maths and 20th for science. When the test was last administered (in 2009), we achieved 25th for reading, 28th for maths and 16th for science. It has been suggested that the drop in the science results can somewhat be attributed to more countries being included in the 2012 tests, however, it still indicates that standards have slipped slightly.

Daisy Christodolou of ARK Schools wonders how much importance we can give these results. She rightly points out that you cannot rely on one method of testing to give the whole truth – however, testing done by TIMSS and PIRLS has also shown that the UK has not improved much. She goes on to say that a study conducted by the University of Sheffield showed that ‘ 17% of English school leavers are functionally illiterate and 22% are functionally innumerate – figures that have remained constant for about half a century’.

It’s also worth noting that Pisa also looks at pupil happiness and it has revealed that South Korea’s children are the least happy at school – despite being one of the world’s highest achieving students (they were ranked 5th); whereas students in Indonesia and Peru (the two countries at the bottom of the table) were the happiest.

So, what conclusions are we to draw? It’s not good enough that children in the UK are leaving school without the basic foundations in reading and writing so it’s clear that improvements in our system have to be made; however, education is not all about hot-housing and it’s important that we produce confident, rounded children who can go on to succeed in whatever path they choose to follow.

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