Measuring PISA Performance

6 Oct

Last week the Welsh Government announced that they were scrapping the top 20 PISA target that had been front and centre of the headlines for so long in Welsh education.  It is fair to say that the move came in for a hefty amount of criticism from some opposition politicians and the media have not been glowing in its assessment of the performance of the DfES over recent weeks.

What the Welsh Government has proposed is that there be a target set in terms of the points to be achieved through the PISA testing rather than where those points ultimately leave Wales.  This, I believe, is a far more sensible and progressive measure of performance.

Truth be told, however unlikely, Wales could end up in the top 20 with a lesser performance than it has secured in the past.  Equally it could drop down the rankings even though its actual performance in the tests improves.  This is due in part because of an increasing number of nations taking part in the PISA process and in part due to the fact that the rankings are determined relative to the performance of other countries.  A good year all around puts pressure on Wales’ position, a bad year and Wales could be the beneficiary of a higher ranking.

Monitoring the performance against past points scores will, irrespective of what position Wales ultimately ends up in, give a clearer picture of the progress we are, or are not, making.  Of course there is a different debate to be had about if you think the 500 point target is an appropriate level.

I have to say that I do harbour some doubts about Wales ability to show major improvements.  These concerns are based on the fact that we have taken reforming decisions that have come back to bite us.  The scrapping of these targets and also that of the banding system go to show that the Welsh Government have got things wrong.  Decisions that will have hindered the learning environment.  More worryingly we seem to be rowing back from the commitment to the Foundation Phase.  Before even the first cohort of Foundation Phase pupils have gone through the system to undertake their GCSEs, A Levels or even PISA testing the Welsh Government has somewhat lost its nerve.  Instead of fully getting behind the principles of learning through play, and the critical thinking and problem solving skills that it develops, the Welsh Government have reintroduced standardised teaching in a way that undermines the approach.  This includes the reintroduction of standardised testing, testing at the Foundation Phase and establishing age rather than stage expectations. The theme of the Government at least giving the perception of the Foundation Phase ethos being undermined loomed large in Professor Imran Siraj’s Foundation Phase stocktake published this year.

If Wales does, or does not, reach the target is yet to be seen.  What is clear to me is that in setting a points rather than positional target the Welsh Government have recognised a flaw in their approach and are at least creating a more appropriate and relevant comparison for the future.  For that they would be congratulated.


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