PISA Targets

26 Jun

Yesterday I contributed to the Sunday Politics show discussion on the political fall out from the Cabinet Secretary for Education distancing herself from her predecessors PISA targets.  While it remains online you can view it here, starting around 40:04 in.

In terms of the political discussion what I said was that I don’t believe the ramifications extend to the classroom.  I don’t know of a single teacher who base their work on ensuring PISA results are improved.  Teachers are focused on simply doing their best for pupils, ensuring that socially and academically they reach their full potential, and that they attain the best qualifications possible.  Naturally if PISA measures the things it claims to in the way it claims to, and that remains a big and ever increasing if, then the work done in our classrooms should be captured.

However, where it does have an impact is on policy development.  We saw in 2010 how PISA results led to a huge upheaval in strategic direction.  Leighton Andrews put in place a raft of policy changes that often totally contradicted the previous approach in Wales, which were implemented in direct response to PISA.  Across the world Governments have changed their education policies to reflect aims and targets in PISA.  The big question that comes out of the apparent clash in PISA targets being set within the Welsh cabinet is, what are the implications for our policy approach in future?  Whose targets are we aiming for? What happens if we reach one but not the other? Why are we continuing to set targets for PISA and are they meaningless for a number of reasons? Or are we still expecting to see the possibility of our system turned upside down based on PISA?

For what it is worth I supported the position taken by Kirsty Williams.  When the original story broke I agreed that PISA targets had failed to focus policy and resources on the right elements to support our pupils and teachers.  Getting away from that is, ironically enough, the best way to ensure a better education system.

One other thing I wanted to touch on comes from the line that David Reynolds said in the piece, which is that PISA results are the driver of economic success.  His evidence for this is that Shanghai saw great inward investment following their rise to the top of the rankings.  I don’t dismiss any assumptions out of hand but I have continually been left cold by this argument.  For me it is a case of correlation without causation.  Just as you can find evidence to show one influencing the other, you can find the evidence that undermines that view.  For example Finland ranked top of PISA in 2000.  The year on year growth of the Finish economy for the next thirteen years following that was at a lower rate than in 2000.  There are a host of nations whose economic success exceed their PISA scores and vice versa.  Indeed in 2015 the Welsh Government announced historic record inward investment figures.  That alone contradicts the argument.

As I say, I don’t dismiss any thinking out of hand but it seems a reach to claim that PISA is make or break for inward investment when that isn’t necessarily born out by the facts.

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