What does PISA say about UK 15-year-olds?

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The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has taken place every three years since 2000.  The figures for the UK in 2000 showed UK pupils doing well.  But the OECD, who runs the tests, later found the figures were faulty and withdrew them.   The OECD did not accept figures for the UK in 2003 because of sampling problems.  The only reliable figures for the UK are those from 2006 onwards..

PISA 2009

Between 2006 and 2009 there was a relative fall in ranking from 17th to 25th in reading, 23rd to 28th for maths, and 14th to 17th in 2009 for science. But more countries took part in the 2009 tests – 65 compared with 58 in 2006. However, there is little statistical difference between the 2006 and 2009 scores.

In the 2009 PISA tests, UK pupils were at the OECD average for reading and maths, and above the OECD average for Science

In December 2010, when the 2009 PISA results were published, the Government and most of the media ignored the OECD warning not to compare the 2009 results with the faulty 2000 figures.  This led to the "plummeting down league tables" myth.  In October 2012, the UK Statistics Authority expressed concern about the way the Department of Education (DfE) had used PISA statistics.  There has, however, been no apology from either the DfE or newspaper editors.  The faulty figures continue to be used to portray state education in England as being in a pitiful state.  Tory MPs Chris Skidmore and Prit Platel made the false comparison after the UK Statistics Watchdog had warned against their use.  The Confederation of British Industry  (CBI) published the 2000 figures in a graph in its 2013 Annual Report. 

PISA 2012

The results showed a slight improvement in the performance of UK 15 year-olds. However, it was statistically insignificant. Performance has remained static. UK pupils still performed at the OECD average in reading and maths, and above the OECD average in science in PISA 2013. See here for more detailed analysis

PISA 2015

The performance of UK 15 year-olds slightly improved in 2015.  The score for reading was slightly (very slightly) above the OECD average.  Score for maths remained at the OECD average while science remained consistently above the OECD average.

 PISA 2018

England’s maths rose by more than ten percentage points since 2015 making it the highest performer in the UK.  Wales also saw a rise.  Scotland and Northern Ireland showed a slight decline.

Results in science declined, particularly outside England.  Wales was the only country to show a slight improvement but still trails the other three.

Reading was the main focus of the 2018 tests.   The UK as a whole is now above average.  

Despite the fall in science, ‘mean scores in England were significantly above the OECD averages’ in maths, science and reading, says the NFER.    Wales, despite its improvement, still lags behind.

Life satisfaction among UK teenagers is one of the lowest in the world.  Just 53% of teenagers said they were satisfied with their lives against an OECD average of 77%.

4 December 2019