It’s PISA Day! But Gove pre-empted publication with negative comments about what’s in the package.

Janet Downs's picture
“The Education Secretary writes for the Telegraph ahead of an OECD report showing how schools are performing across the globe.”

Daily Telegraph, 2 December 2013

The results aren’t published yet – they’re due to be released at 11am Paris Time today.  But Education Secretary Michael Gove will already have seen the embargoed copy.  So he’s got in first with the negative commentary.

He starts with a pompous piece of rhetoric, “On Tuesday we will find out just how well the governments of the past have prepared Britain for the world of the future”.

The “government of the past” is, of course, Labour.  And Gove berates Labour for being “in denial” after the 2009 results were published.  These showed the scores achieved by UK 15-year-olds had hardly changed between 2006 and 2009 but their relative position had fallen - more countries, including “jurisdictions” (part countries), took part.

But this was hailed as a sign that UK was “plummeting” down league tables.  This misinformation endured for over two years until the UK Statistics Watchdog censured Gove’s use of international test data.  But Gove still wrote yesterday previous OECD data showed that “under Labour, England’s schools have, at worst, declined, and at best, remained stagnant”.

PISA has come under criticism lately and questions are asked about their reliability.  Martin Stephens, High Master of St Paul’s School, says today that PISA lacks credibility and attracts attention because the tables are “media friendly”.  This translated means lazy journalists looking for sensation can trot out headlines such as “Travesty of our Failing Schools”.

Gove says, rightly, it would be wrong to put “too much weight on any individual result” but then proceeds to do exactly that.  And he ignores other, more favourable, international test results such as TIMSS.

He did that in 2010.  TIMSS 2007 had placed English 10 and 14 year-olds at the top of the European league but not a peep from the Secretary of State who prides himself on his “evidence-based” policy decisions.

Again, he’s ignored TIMSS 2011.  English 14 year-olds were more likely to reach the Maths Advanced Benchmark than in most countries although they lagged behind the performance of pupils in the Far East.

But Labour produced a “lost generation”, wrote Gove.  Would that be the non-existent “millions” which he said left school in the decade up to 2011 without the “basics” to get a “decent job”.  But that assertion can only be justified by labeling elementary jobs, those that require only Level One (GCSE D-G) qualification, as work which isn’t “decent”.  And the number of pupils leaving school during that decade is about 350,000 to 400,000.  A long way from Gove’s “millions”.  A long way from being a “lost generation”.

Since the Coalition came to power, Gove wrote, its policies are freeing “brilliant heads” and giving academies and free schools “space to succeed” (just don’t mention Kunskapsskolan academies, Discovery New School or al-Madinah).  But the Academies Commission found that this extra “space” doesn’t amount to much: non-academies can do most things academies can do.

In ten minutes the PISA results will be published.  I shall be spending the next few weeks analyzing them soberly and avoiding speculation.

Watch this space.
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