PISA and Myths of National Decline

From Planet 226

by Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees analyses how a narrative of crisis in Welsh education has developed out of a singular obsession with PISA results. He offers a more positive picture of educational achievement and calls for the Welsh Government to also participate in alternative international studies of pupil attainment; warning of how the PISA results are being used to undermine devolution itself.

A few weeks before Christmas, education became a hot topic for the media in Wales. For a few days, news bulletins and the front pages of newspapers focused our attention on the attainment of Welsh pupils and the performance of our schools. Even obscure educational researchers – myself included – were inundated with requests for interviews and comment. What occasioned this interest was not some major change in the Welsh Government’s education policy, but rather the publication of the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is an international survey, conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which aims to test the attainment of 15-year-olds in mathematics, science and reading. It claims to provide a robust basis for assessing the performance of national education systems, by enabling comparisons to be made between countries.

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