Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

We'll Reach Pisa Goals, but Perhaps Not This Year: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

We'll Reach Pisa Goals, but Perhaps Not This Year: News

Article excerpt

Wales needs sustainable change, not a quick fix, says minister.

Wales's education system has been overhauled in the wake of its "disastrous" performance in the 2009 Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings. Back then, the results showed that the country's 15-year-olds had performed worse than their peers in the rest of the UK in reading, maths and science.

But despite a raft of reforms, senior figures including education minister Leighton Andrews have cast doubt on Wales's ability to improve its standing in international education tests.

Speaking at a major conference on Pisa last week, Mr Andrews admitted publicly for the first time that Wales may not improve its international score when the country's 15-year-olds sit the next set of tests in the autumn.

"As the next assessments approach, my officials are focusing on strategies to improve the weaknesses identified in Pisa," Mr Andrews said. "I know my ambition for Wales to climb the Pisa rankings is a significant challenge, and it would be unrealistic to expect significant improvements in the 2012 results.

"Systemic change takes time if it is to have a lasting impact. Experience tells us that quick fixes are seldom sustainable."

Mr Andrews' comments come despite previous statements that his aim was for Wales to become a top 20 Pisa country in the 2015 round of tests. Wales ranked 30th out of 67 countries for science in 2009, compared with 38th for reading and 40th for maths.

A senior figure from Pisa, which is run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), also suggested that the top 20 aim may be too ambitious.

"A 20-point increase in the space of six years would be a challenge," said Pisa's senior analyst Michael Davidson. "It's not impossible, but it would be at the upper end of what other countries have achieved. It's a stretching target, but then that's what targets should be."

Mr Davidson said that Wales's pupils were a full two school years behind their counterparts in leading Pisa regions such as Shanghai, and half a year behind the OECD average. However, he added that certain countries had made great strides in the past, including Chile, which improved its Pisa score by 40 points in a decade.

He said that it would be wrong to concentrate solely on climbing the Pisa league table, and that focusing on improving the skills that the tests measure was more important. He dismissed critics of Wales's focus on international rankings, who have accused Mr Andrews of an "obsession" with Pisa. …

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