Preparing for PISA 2010: Lessons from PISA 2006

Henry Stewart's picture
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Next week will see the publication of the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This comparison takes place every 3 years. Michael Gove, in the recent white paper, stressed the importance of making sure our schools take part in PISA.

This comparison enables a systematic comparison of what are the factors that make for successful education systems. Click here for the 2006 summary - p8 for system-factor conclusions, which include:


  • Where schools divided students by ability, countries tended to have lower student performance

  • On raw figures, private schools outperformed state schools. However, once socio-economic factors were taken into account, state schools on average had an advantage of 12 score points over private schools.

  • Students in schools with greater autonomy do not on average get better results

  • Countries with selection or streaming tend to have far greater differences between school performances



The countries which come highest in the PISA international comparison are those which enable all students to succeed, as opposed to those more focused on the more academic. Finland, which has topped all three PISA studies, embodies this with neither selection, streaming or setting.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 05/12/2010 - 11:28

According to PISA selective systems have lower student performance and less equal outcomes so poorer students do less well - Germany is a good example of this.
Unfortunately in England we still have the worst of all worlds, not fully comprehensive with ongoing use of academic selection and a small but significant independent sector, which is both financially and academically selective. As Henry points out, research by Dylan Wiliam at the Institute of Education, presented to a conference organised by the Spectator Magazine last year, shows that once class background is factored in, independent schools don't do much better than state schools. Professor Wiliam's conclusion was that this was probably because the teaching in many private schools isn't that good.

Nigel Ford's picture
Sun, 05/12/2010 - 12:16

Yes Fiona, regarding the class background, it is interesting to note that independent schools don't perform any better than state schools (worse according to PISA). Still I always take comfort from the fact that parents are wasting their money on a system that isn't likely to produce better results, while paying taxes for their children to receive a perfectly good state education, and at the same time these youngsters aren't getting a terribly good social mix at their private schools.

I do however wonder if looking at it from the other spectrum, whether the offspring of very well off sportsmen, particularly footballers who have an abundance of wealth, where's there's been no history of academic achievement because the footballer and his partner having left school at 16 with few or no qualifications, would do better in the private rather than state sector. In other words would independent school teaching have a more positive impact for working class children than for middle class children who of course patronise that sector anyway?

Also, while I agree that comprehensive schooling was one of the best concepts to emerge from the post war 20th century I would like to pick up on something Henry alluded to when the report said that streaming pupils by ability yielded a worse result than those schools that didn't.

I couldn't actually find the table that qualified this fact, but for me the comprehensive system should stop when it comes lumping all students together rather than setting them by ability. I think that a child will benefit far more if he/she is in a class with other pupils of a similar ability range rather than if he/she is at either end of the ability spectrum. It must be easier for the teacher to do the job as well. I don't think grouping needs to be applied for humanities but in most other subjects with the option of moving up or down depending on the progress made.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 05/12/2010 - 14:09

I have always thought that, if we are going to allow private schools to retain their charitable status, they should be obliged to take in the most challenging pupils from the state sector - those at risk of exclusion for example rather than those who can access an academically selective bursary. These are the students who would most benefit from small class sizes and access to the sort of extra curricular activities their home lives usually preclude. Unfortunately it is also probably the case that the teachers in the independent sector would be ill -equipped to deal with such a range of students. We could offer to take them into our state schools to train them ( at a cost!)

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 05/12/2010 - 16:17

Absolutely right, Fiona. Private schools are often keen to provide bursaries to students who are already doing well academically, and are set to succeed. There seem to be few private schools keen to provide support to the more chllenging students - the only support which would be of real social benefit..

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