The Cambridge Primary Review Trust

Building on the most comprehensive enquiry into
English primary education for 40 years

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PISA 2012: TIME TO GROW UP?

On December 3rd 2013 - PISA Day - OECD published its 2012 test results in maths, reading and science for a sample of 15 year olds in 65 countries, together with attendant league tables and analysis. Except that politicians and media mostly targeted the league tables and ignored OECD’s analysis, preferring to substitute their own. As with PISA 2009, 2006 and 2003, this was heavy on blame and naive attributions of educational cause and economic effect, and light on acknowledgement of PISA’s limitations and the contextual, cultural and demographic factors that OECD itself is careful to emphasise. There was also much talk of the need to recover lost educational rigour, which one commentator tellingly spelled ‘rigor’.

These tests are undeniably important in the snapshots they provide of selected aspects of the UK’s educational performance in relation to that of other OECD member and partner countries. If there’s evidence that standards are stagnating or falling then we must act. And because primary schools lay the foundations for later attainment we hope that CPRT associates and followers will be as keen as their secondary colleagues to inform themselves about PISA’s outcomes and implications. The links below provide both findings and comment. Here’s one finding to take us beyond the league tables: in maths, differences in performance at age 15 within countries are often greater – the equivalent of over seven years of schooling – than differences between them. Sounds familiar? Those with long memories will recall that Cockcroft diagnosed the seven-year maths gap in England and Wales back in 1982, and among 11 year olds, not 15. Successful countries may not close the gap but they reduce the variation and increase the proportion of high attainers.

So it’s time for Westminster to grow up and give us something more enlightened than Punch and Judy exchanges and exhortations to copy whichever country or jurisdiction, regardless of its politics and culture, happens for now to head the PISA league table. If Westminster continues to prefer its own myths, nostrums and playground taunts to proper analysis, including that provided by OECD itself, we might well ask ‘What’s the point of PISA?’

But ‘time to grow up’ has a deeper resonance, for each successive wave of PISA panic produces a reflex tightening of the screws on children’s time for the rich, balanced and no less rigorous education which not only serves them best but also, as it happens, supports the drive to raise standards; their time, indeed, for childhood.

We hope that primary professionals and school leaders, who lay the foundations for what PISA tests and, crucially, for what it does not test, will study the evidence and reclaim the debate. Start with the links below...

Robin Alexander

  • 21 January 2014 / Duxford, Cambridge
    CPRT / Pearson regional primary curriculum conference, Imperial War Museum. Contact Pearson Events pearsonevents@pearson.com
  • 28 January 2014 / Warwickshire
    CPRT / Pearson regional primary curriculum conference, Heritage Motor Museum. Contact Pearson Events pearsonevents@pearson.com
  • 30 January 2014 / Newcastle-on-Tyne
    CPRT / Pearson regional primary curriculum conference, Centre for Life. Contact Pearson Events pearsonevents@pearson.com
  • 11 February 2014 / Canterbury
    CPRT / Pearson regional primary curriculum conference, Cathedral Lodge. Contact Pearson Events pearsonevents@pearson.com
  • 13 February 2014 / Cornwall
    CPRT / Pearson regional primary curriculum conference, Eden Project. Contact Pearson Events pearsonevents@pearson.com
  • 18 March 2014 / Sheffield
    CPRT / Pearson regional primary curriculum conference, Magna Science Centre. Contact Pearson Events pearsonevents@pearson.com

This list left is updated weekly. It includes both those events organised by the CPRT and those to which the CPRT is contributing. Some of the events are invitational, but many others ( highlighted ) are open to some or all. In these cases contact details are given where known. If in doubt, contact the organisation concerned. Our events list is archived.

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