Tuesday 4 December 2007

Reading behind the international surveys (2)

Coming a week after the PIRLS reading survey, today's PISA results appear to confirm a trend. It is not, as the more excitable right-wing commentators suggest, that our students have dipped significantly in their performance because of central government policies - in fact on reading and science, only seven countries score significantly higher than England (though, our maths performance is rather less good); rather, it is that some other countries that have introduced strong reforms are improving faster. As I argued around PIRLS, the intensity of the strategies around literacy and numeracy (and this is as true at Key Stage 3 - age 14 - as it has been at Key Stage 2 - age 11) was lost between 2001-2005. In primary schools, the focus is being re-energised; in secondaries, the requirement that English and Maths results are included in the five good GCSEs recorded in the league tables is starting to have a similar effect (it is noticeable that far more pupils get a GCSE C+ in English than Maths (See Excel Table 7)). But the lesson of these international surveys is not that we should abandon testing, leave teachers alone or give up. Have a look at the dismal performance of Wales - against which 16 countries do significantly better on reading - to see what that approach brings. It is instead that - as the 2000 and 2001 surveys showed - when government has a clear overall strategy, schools are clear about their priorities and public accountability is strong - then pupils will achieve not just at the average level of their international counterparts, but significantly above average.

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