Wales awaits world Pisa education test results

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Politicians, teachers and education experts in Wales are awaiting the results of what has been described the world's school report.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) charts educational standards across the developed world.

Fifteen-year-olds are tested in maths, reading and science every three years.

In each of the three previous sets of Pisa results, Wales has come out worse than England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

More than 70 countries and administrations take part in the tests, run by the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


Shanghai came top in the last set of results in 2013 with South Korea and Hong Kong following closely behind.

But as well as trailing other UK nations, Wales has also found itself behind countries including Vietnam, Poland and Slovakia.

The bruising results have led to searching questions about the direction of Welsh education policy and the impact of the results on its international reputation.

Following the publication of a poor set of results in 2010, the then education minister Leighton Andrews introduced a series of measures designed to drive up standards in Welsh schools.

Literacy and numeracy frameworks were introduced as was school banding and national tests.

David Evans, secretary of the teaching union NUT Cymru said the Welsh Government should not be tempted to introduce more changes to education, even if the Pisa results are disappointing once again.

"It's difficult to see what difference it [the reforms] really has made in truth," he said.

"Back in 2011 it was probably a knee-jerk reaction by Leighton Andrews to the tests. Pisa itself says the worst thing to do following the results is to tear up the old regime and look for something new. You need some stability and that's what we need from whatever happens in the next round of results."

But that is denied by Leighton Andrews, now a professor at Cardiff University, who said the Welsh Government's reaction in 2010 was measured.

"We had two options, to pretend everything was hunky dory or face the challenge. We didn't rush to any judgement... we took time to reflect."

Current Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has already called for "realism" when looking at how quickly reforms will have an impact on the latest Pisa results.

What are Pisa tests?

  • Pisa's full title is Programme for International Student Assessment
  • Tests are always in maths, reading and science
  • They are run every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • They are taken by 540,000 15-year-old pupils in 72 countries and local administrations
  • Wales took part for the first time in 2006
  • Tests take about two hours and all are now on computer.
  • In the last results, Shanghai came top in all areas, with scores as high as 613 in maths. Vietnam scored higher than the United States.
  • Try some test questions for yourself here.

Analysis: 'Little will be learned'

Pisa: The political dimension

What the ministers said

As more and more countries have joined in, the Pisa tests have become increasingly important. They are now now seen as the litmus tests for international educational standards.

David Reynolds, professor of education at Swansea University, said Pisa is becoming increasingly significant in the worldwide marketplace and countries with poor Pisa scores will lose out on jobs and investment to their high-achieving competitors.

'Starting point'

"The countries where people do better at the tests acquire more qualifications, they get more accreditation, they will have huge competitive advantage because industrialists will go there, like they're pouring into China, pouring into Poland, like they're not pouring into Wales."

A new curriculum will be introduced in Welsh schools by 2021.

Dr Philip Dixon, author of Testing Times, Success, Failure and Fiasco in Education Policy in Wales Since Devolution, says the new curriculum is a great opportunity for Wales but has to be rolled out carefully.

"There are no prizes for rolling out something quickly and then getting it wrong; better to take our time and get it right and that's when the reward will come."

But Gareth Rees, author of Is There a Crisis in Welsh Education? said Pisa can only say so much and more long-term research is needed.

"Pisa is a starting point for analysis, not a definitive judgement."

The results of the world's school report will be revealed at 10:00 GMT - so will the reforms have made an impact or will Welsh education face yet more tough questions?

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