School Reforms Flop As PISA Boost Fails To Materialize

UK - Education - Teacher takes a history class at Pimlico Academy a modern secondary school in Londo
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School reforms have failed to translate into improved results in the PISA international comparison tests, according to data released today.

The U.K.’s Conservative government—seeking to retain office in next week’s election—has set great store by the tests, citing them as the key measure of the success of school reforms.

But results published today show that the U.K’s performance has stagnated in reading and science, and improved only slightly in mathematics.

The lack of progress comes despite government boasts of a system-wide improvement and steady increases in the number of students getting top grades in national exams, fuelling fears that this is the result of grade inflation rather than any improvement in standards.

The U.K.’s performance in reading and science has remained broadly stable since 2006, while the mathematics score rose by nine points between 2015 and 2018, according to the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results.

The findings mean the U.K. ranks 14th in reading, 18th in mathematics and 14th in science, out of the 79 participating countries and economies that took the tests, administered by the OECD.

The U.S. ranks 13th in reading and 18th in science, with scores that are very similar to those of the U.K., but is a lowly 37th in mathematics.

The top three in each subject are Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang, Singapore and Macau. Hong Kong is fourth in both reading and mathematics, while Estonia breaks the Far Eastern stranglehold with fourth place in science.

The PISA tests, triennial tests taken this time round by around 600,000 15-year-olds, have proved controversial, not least for the apparent one-size-fits-all approach.

But the U.K. government has made performance in the tests a key measure against which to judge the success of its reforms, including giving schools greater autonomy through the academies program and changes to public exams aimed at making them more rigorous.

The government has been able to boast of a greater number of students attending schools judged good or outstanding by the schools’ watchdog, and exam results improving year after year.

But while the latter claim has been beset by fears of grade inflation, the former has been undermined by a decision to exempt outstanding schools from inspection, artificially inflating their numbers.

Now today’s results have provided a devastating blow to Conservative claims to have improved standards during their nine years in power, with just over a week to go to the general election.

And although, unlike in 2017, education has yet to become a major issue in the election, which has so far been dominated by Brexit and allegations of dirty tricks, it still has the potential to erupt onto the scene in the final few days of campaigning.

Today’s results also revealed that U.K. students are more likely to be victims of bullying than the average 15-year-old across the OECD (27% compared with 23%), and reported lower levels of happiness. Just over half (53%) of 15-year-olds in the U.K. reported feeling satisfied with their lives, compared with 67% across the OECD.

U.K. students were also more likely to view their classmates as competitors (66%, versus an OECD average of 50%). Around one in six (16%) said they felt lonely at school.

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School reforms have failed to translate into improved results in the PISA international comparison tests, according to data released today.

The U.K.’s Conservative government—seeking to retain office in next week’s election—has set great store by the tests, citing them as the key measure of the success of school reforms.

But results published today show that the U.K’s performance has stagnated in reading and science, and improved only slightly in mathematics.

The lack of progress comes despite government boasts of a system-wide improvement and steady increases in the number of students getting top grades in national exams, fuelling fears that this is the result of grade inflation rather than any improvement in standards.

The U.K.’s performance in reading and science has remained broadly stable since 2006, while the mathematics score rose by nine points between 2015 and 2018, according to the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results.

The findings mean the U.K. ranks 14th in reading, 18th in mathematics and 14th in science, out of the 79 participating countries and economies that took the tests, administered by the OECD.

The U.S. ranks 13th in reading and 18th in science, with scores that are very similar to those of the U.K., but is a lowly 37th in mathematics.

The top three in each subject are Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang, Singapore and Macau. Hong Kong is fourth in both reading and mathematics, while Estonia breaks the Far Eastern stranglehold with fourth place in science.

The PISA tests, triennial tests taken this time round by around 600,000 15-year-olds, have proved controversial, not least for the apparent one-size-fits-all approach.

But the U.K. government has made performance in the tests a key measure against which to judge the success of its reforms, including giving schools greater autonomy through the academies program and changes to public exams aimed at making them more rigorous.

The government has been able to boast of a greater number of students attending schools judged good or outstanding by the schools’ watchdog, and exam results improving year after year.

But while the latter claim has been beset by fears of grade inflation, the former has been undermined by a decision to exempt outstanding schools from inspection, artificially inflating their numbers.

Now today’s results have provided a devastating blow to Conservative claims to have improved standards during their nine years in power, with just over a week to go to the general election.

And although, unlike in 2017, education has yet to become a major issue in the election, which has so far been dominated by Brexit and allegations of dirty tricks, it still has the potential to erupt onto the scene in the final few days of campaigning.

Today’s results also revealed that U.K. students are more likely to be victims of bullying than the average 15-year-old across the OECD (27% compared with 23%), and reported lower levels of happiness. Just over half (53%) of 15-year-olds in the U.K. reported feeling satisfied with their lives, compared with 67% across the OECD.

U.K. students were also more likely to view their classmates as competitors (66%, versus an OECD average of 50%). Around one in six (16%) said they felt lonely at school.

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I’m a freelance journalist specializing in education. My career so far has taken in regional and national newspapers and magazines, including Forbes, The Daily Telegraph...