Yet another load of doom and gloom, as we hear that we are “stagnating” in the PISA international comparison tests.
These tests are taken by 65 countries. We are still above average. Why is there an assumption that we have some God-given right to be near the top? If other countries have improved substantially – well done them. Would it make our performance somehow better if theirs had remained at the lower level it was hitherto? And why is there also an assumption that it is possible to keep on improving indefinitely?
Now I am not saying that all is well in the UK education system – anyone who reads here at all regularly will know I think there are quite a lot of issues. Of course we should not be complacent about our education system, and yes, we should look to see if we can learn anything from other countries. But that is very different to a knee-jerk reaction that everything is going horrendously wrong.
Those figures, as published so far, are only giving an “average” score (and they don’t even say whether it’s a mean or a median). I’d be very interested to know the distribution of scores for the different countries – who is getting the most out of their top end, or the most out of the bottom end? What are the confidence limits for the scores? Looking at the graphic in the article, there are a whole lot of countries with similar scores – is there actually a significant difference?
I see there is one suggestion that we should actually prepare kids specifically for these tests because they are “politically important”. To be fair, the advocate of this approach is suggesting it to avoid the government hitting the teaching profession over the head with the blunt instrument of these tests. But that really isn’t a good solution – we’re way too assessment-driven already in our education system, and wasting time preparing kids for assessments that are of no personal use to them whatsoever is just not justifiable in my opinion.
The tests are, of course, only on a narrow range of subjects – nothing on MFL, or technical or creative subjects, and certainly nothing on personal development. Now I am not saying we should start testing those internationally too – heaven forbid! – but let us not reduce our assessment of our education system’s performance just to those specific subjects. We may well have much to learn from other countries, but we shouldn’t judge that just on a few examinations, and nor should we regard education as a competition between nations – it is much more important than that.