Pisa: the political reaction

Expectation-management has been in full flow for a number of weeks now, but nevertheless the Pisa results make tough reading for the Welsh Government, and for that matter everyone in Wales.

The comparisons with places like Singapore and South Korea inevitably generate plenty of attention, but as ever the comparison with the system in England will be the one that touches a nerve.

A 10 point gap is equivalent to around a term's worth of progress and on that basis pupils in Wales are more than a term behind pupils in England in maths, two terms in reading and nearly a year behind their English equivalents in science.

A breakdown of the figures gives some insight.

If you were to stop most people in the street and ask them why are the Pisa results in Wales so poor, the conventional wisdom would be that it is because of relatively high-levels of social deprivation.


But the stats show that the proportion of the lowest-performing pupils is broadly in line with other comparable countries.

Instead what drags the Welsh figures down is that the high-achievers don't do well enough.

The question of whether our brightest youngsters are being stretched enough is now being acknowledged among Welsh Government education officials.

In recent years, there has been plenty of focus on policies like the Pupil Deprivation Grant and even Schools Challenge Cymru (even though this has been scrapped by Kirsty Williams) for under-performing schools, but little public focus on the need to push the most advanced.

It will be interesting to see whether this is reflected in future policies.


The response from the opposition parties has been brutal.

The Conservatives have described the figures as a "scandal of monumental proportions", while Plaid say they are the result of a Labour bunker mentality for 17 years.

Despite the tough talking, what should help the Welsh Government is a general unwillingness from all sides to support another round of dramatic change to the system.

There is already huge reform being introduced in the form of a new curriculum, so the message will be to ensure those changes are shaped to deal with the challenges, rather than break it all up and start again.