Next year is not just Olympic year – it is also when 15-year-olds in 66 countries take part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey. PISA tests are set every three years by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and governments use information from the tests to plan education policies. Mr Gove has said that PISA is a benchmark by which a country’s performance in education can be measured.
Mr Gove says he wants his policies to be underpinned by evidence. You would think, therefore, that he would be keen for English children to participate fully in the next round of PISA tests. However, the TES
has learnt that English children will not take part in two new tests to be introduced in 2012. The official reason is that the Department for Education (DfE) doesn’t want to “overburden schools”.
So what are the two new optional tests? One is on financial literacy. To be fair to Mr Gove the financial literacy tests will only be taken by 18 of the 66 territories expected to participate in the main PISA tests on maths, reading and science. The second optional test is on problem-solving.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD official whom Mr Gove described as “the most important man in English education
”, is keen on the new problem-solving test. He explained that “we need to assess problem-solving abilities as governments around the world seek to equip young people with the skills they need for life and employment.” OECD says these abilities can be measured through “progressive teaching methods, like problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning”.
Mr Gove is not a fan of such approaches. He criticised the “time and effort spent on cultivating abstract thinking skills” in a speech
because it detracted from “essential” subject knowledge. And that’s probably the reason why English pupils will not take the optional problem-solving test – because the English education system, with its excessive emphasis on exam results, is skewed against the development of these important skills.
Mr Gove says he wants to know how English pupils fare against 15-year-olds in other countries. He should, therefore, ensure that English pupils take all parts of the 2012 tests. If PISA is to be a benchmark then England can’t opt out of the bits in which it is likely to achieve poor results.