There has been a great deal written about the PISA results, so there is a temptation on my part not to add to the discussion. However, the dataset does represent one of the few international time series views of education performance around the world. The most elusive combination, and perhaps the holy grail of education systems, is performance and happiness. Children in Peru are happy, but don’t yet have a universally high quality education system. In some of the South East Asian entrants to PISA, performance seems to be bought at the price of a reduction in happiness among the young people, and higher levels of anxiety, especially among girls and the study of mathematics.
It is worth noting that the gap between boys and girls in narrower in England than in some other countries. Whether this is because our education system is finally starting to crack the problem of motivating boys or because girls don’t reach their full potential or a combination of both is not clear.
Using the quality assurance model, discussed in earlier posts, policymakers will want to drill down into the data to see where attention needs to be paid if performance is to improve. It seems sad that Blair’s children, those born in 1996/97 that sat the tests in 2012, still faced issues related to deprivation and achievement. The Pupil Premium will only help if head teachers and chairs of governing bodies recognise their responsibility to educate all children using all available resources open to them.
Personally, I would take a serious look at how primary teachers are trained in England. Can we really convert a lawyer in their 30s that hasn’t done any maths for 16 or more years into a fully qualified teacher in 39 weeks, and then offer them a job with a completely different school setup to where they trained, and minimal support during this first few years, and still expect all our pupils to achieve to the best of their abilities? Good teachers can achieve this, but it will be interesting to see as the economy improves, and graduate recruitment becomes more challenging, whether we can still attract these people into teaching.
Finally, as the Prime Minister makes his way home from China he might reflect on why, if our education system is only average, British schools have become a key export industry in their own right. How do we as a nation ensure that educating foreign children isn’t at the expense of not properly educating children in England? And how do we ensure that companies relocating to London don’t recruit too many of our maths and science graduates thus depriving schools of the necessary high quality teachers? Striking that balance won’t be easy, especially with a ban of recruiting teachers from overseas.
As a footnote, it was worth reflecting that across the OECD the class of 2012 seemed less disruptive than their predecessors. Recession’s silver lining for teachers?