Blogs about England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s  PISA results by OUCEA researchers can be viewed here.

PISA: A global opportunity to have your say in education policy 

Professor Therese N. Hopfenbeck and Dr Samantha-Kaye Johnston

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a global assessment by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) that is taken by 15-year-olds across the world, assessing their ability to apply principles from mathematics, reading and science to the real-world. Since 2000, PISA has been administered every 3 years, in more than 90 countriesPISA 2021 was postponed to 2022 due to the pandemic, but we are now planning for data collection in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales for PISA 2022 with the release of international results in December 2023.

The PISA 2022 research team for England, Northern Ireland and Wales will visit and administer PISA 2022 to more than 450 schools in total. The PISA 2022 cycle is a unique opportunity for us to see, on a large scale, how pupils across different educational systems were impacted by the pandemic. Certainly, drawing conclusions from international comparisons is not always straightforward, given the diverse contextual realities within each educational system and within each school. Yet, at the same time, this information allows governments to see the ways in which effective education systems are implemented. It will also provide some important data on pupils’ wellbeing and achievement in these challenging times and allow policy makers to use data to inform future decisions.  

The results from the last PISA cycle (PISA 2018) provided some firsts for nations in the UK. For example, for the first time in the PISA cycles, England’s overall average score showed a significant increase when compared with PISA 2015. England’s mathematics average increased from 493 in 2015, to 504 in 2018, a rise that has been attributed to the increase in performance in mathematics among boys, compared with the 2015 cycle, as well as a rise in the performances of lower achievers. Northern Ireland also had much to celebrate in reading performance in PISA 2018. For the first time, Northern Ireland’s reading score was higher than the OECD average, with the country achieving a mean score of 501, which was significantly higher that the OECD average of 487. Interestingly, for Wales, PISA 2018 was the first time that there was no significant difference between Wales’ score and the OECD average in all three domains (reading, mathematics, and science). In addition, pupils in Wales also performed higher in reading and mathematics than when Wales first participated in PISA in 2006. Impressively, since 2009, Wales’ performance significantly rose, suggesting that across time, pupils in Wales have been improving in their reading performance.  

Along with assessing pupil achievement, PISA collects contextual information from pupils through the pupil questionnaires, including information related to their overall wellbeing, which can be determined by assessing components of home and school climate and pupil life satisfaction, as well as their subjective wellbeing. Based on the findings from the PISA 2018 Pupil Questionnaire, on average, pupils across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland were more likely to feel sad and worried, compared with the OECD average, which is illustrated for England in Figure 1.  By obtaining this information, PISA provides an excellent opportunity for schools to access details of how to help support pupils in their learning, including the potential to implement greater access to pastoral care in schools. Further, PISA provides a unique opportunity to explore the ways in which wellbeing has changed over time, considering the impact of the pandemic, and whether there exist specific drivers of changes in wellbeing.  

Source: PISA 2018 National Report for England  

Figure 1. Percentage of pupils in England who reported never, rarely, sometimes, and always for each negative feeling included in the PISA 2018 Pupil Questionnaire. 

There is a continued commitment for PISA to be used as a global measure for assessing the effectiveness of education systems, a commitment that is contextualised within the aim of achieving more equitable learning experiences. However, it is only with the cooperation of schools and pupils that we can be sure that the study is successful, that we collect good quality, reliable data and ensure that the results are an accurate and representative picture of education in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. The information collected in PISA is an important part of the evidence base in education, enabling governments across the UK to benchmark their systems with those internationally, and learn from the policies and practices in other countries to provide our young people with the education they require to succeed in adult life. Together, let us continue to collaborate in this global venture as we shape education policy and practice in a post-COVID era. This collaboration can be achieved through participating in international assessments, such as PISA 2022, to ensure that educational stakeholders, including policymakers, have access to good quality data, which enables more informed decisions.  

To learn more about the most recent cycle of PISA (PISA 2018) and what to expect from PISA 2022, you can view the recording of our recent PISA 2022 webinar here.