Higher Pisa rankings vital for economy, says Wales education minister

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Schools should introduce voluntary Pisa-based tests to see how they could improve, says the minister

Achievement in the Pisa international school tests is vital if Wales is to have a successful economy, Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis has said.

Wales fell behind the rest of the UK in the last science, maths and reading test results released last December.

On Tuesday, Mr Lewis said the tests showed if young people had the skills both they and the economy needed.

Schools should introduce voluntary Pisa-based tests to see how they could improve their performance, he said.

The Pisa tests, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), were taken by 500,000 15-year-olds in 68 countries.

In maths Wales fell three places to 43rd of the 65 countries.

And the nation was ranked at 41, down from 38, in reading.

The biggest fall came in science, where Wales dropped six places to joint 36th.

In a statement to AMs, Mr Lewis said the cost of a low skills base was "potentially huge" for the Welsh economy.

'Loud and clear'

"Andreas Schleicher of the OECD (its deputy director for education and skills) is absolutely correct when he said 'your education today is your economy tomorrow'", the minister said.

"I can't emphasise enough how important it is that we equip our young people with skills that translate to the workplace and life."

Mr Lewis said Welsh workers needed "a better grasp and understanding of literacy, numeracy, problem solving and reasoning", the skills that Pisa assesses.

"I want that message to be heard loud and clear - schools, parents and teachers need to understand the wider ramifications of Pisa.

"It's not testing for testing sake, it's a way of us seeing exactly where we are in the world and whether we are giving our young people the skills to support the economy and skills to find work in the future."

The minister said it was in the interests of schools to introduce the new voluntary tests.

"Although these tests are voluntary, I would encourage schools to get involved as this will give them, for the first time, a school improvement plan which benchmarks them against the best performing schools in the world," he added.

'Bull's eye'

Shadow Conservative Education Minister Angela Burns said it was important to use the Pisa tests properly.

"I would like to just raise that never ending plea to ensure that we don't teach to the test, but we do really drill down and teach the skills of understanding and application," she said.

Mr Lewis's statement "doesn't seem to talk a huge amount about actions", but about improving delivery, more analysis and more planning, she added.

Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas said the minister was not going far enough.

"Teaching children to pass the next set of Pisa tests is not sufficient. Will it be enough that we encourage children to sit the test more frequently in the hope that they will hit the bull's eye?

"We need to teach children skills that they can adapt to perform consistently well."

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