PISA 2012 confirms earlier findings: high performing school systems tend not to segregate pupils by ability

Janet Downs's picture
Calls for the return of selective education in England by reintroducing grammar schools have become louder.  UKIP wants a grammar school in every town; Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Friends of Grammar Schools in 2010 that his foot was “hovering over the pedal”; the Sunday Express exaggerates polls allegedly showing support for more grammars.

But what did the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) say about selective education in PISA 2012 Results in Focus  PISA 2012 tested Reading, Maths and Science, but the primary focus was on Maths.  The last time PISA focussed on Maths was in 2003 so PISA was able to compare the two years.


1         Pupils in schools systems which group by ability scored lower marks in maths in 2012 than in 2003.

2         Schools systems that segregate pupils according to performance tend to be those where pupils are also segregated by socio-economic status.

3         Some countries have introduced system-wide reforms aimed at establishing more comprehensive schooling (eg Poland) or less tracking (eg Germany).  These reforms also address other sources of inequity, such as socio-economic disadvantage, immigrant background or challenging home life.

4         Selecting pupils at a young age for different “tracks” or schools is “negatively related to equity”.

5         Pupils in “highly stratified systems tend to be less motivated” than their peers in “less stratified systems”.

6         There may be more incentives in “highly stratified systems” for schools to cream the best students and avoid dealing with difficult pupils.  The OECD advised such school systems to create incentives to ensure some pupils weren’t “discarded”.  (Note: the Academies Commission warned about the possibility of a “hard-to-place” group of pupils appearing as a result of academization).

7         Comprehensive systems found ways of working with the full ability range.

PISA 2012 confirms earlier PISA findings: school systems that perform well in PISA tend not to segregate pupils according to ability or by virtue of where they live.  Michael Gove should bear this in mind before he pushes the pedal to the floor.

NOTE:  See faq above What do schools systems which score highly in PISA have in common? for other factors identified by PISA associated with high performance.
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