Commenting on Pisa results for England, published today, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The findings should be a wake-up call to the Government that its polices are taking education in England in the wrong direction.

“Pisa finds a clear link between successful education systems and pupils’ sense of belonging and life satisfaction.

“The finding that pupils in England are less likely to agree that their life has a clear meaning compared with their counterparts globally and that two thirds described themselves as sometimes or always feeling worried should be deeply concerning.

“Education should inspire our children and young people to believe that they can achieve anything with their lives. But in the context of austerity, growing rates of child poverty and homelessness, low pay and job insecurity, a generation of young people in England are growing up believing that their future is bleak.

“While the performance of pupils in England has not changed significantly in reading and science compared with the rest of the OECD and there has been a slight improvement in maths performance, there has been a significant shift in pupils’ attitudes to their learning.

“It is deeply concerning that pupils in England show more negative attitudes towards reading, with a lower proportion than OECD average agreeing that reading was a favourite hobby and that they liked talking about books.

“While England’s 15-year-olds showed relative strengths in ‘locating information’ and ‘evaluating and reflecting’ while reading, they were less strong in ‘understanding’.

“Pupils in England also reported that they experienced greater competition and less cooperation among pupils at their school than was typical across the OECD. This reflects England’s school system with an emphasis on competition at school level driven by high-stakes testing and league tables. At a time when globally cooperation is understood to be increasingly important, we appear to be sending all the wrong signals to our younger generation about the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly globalised world.

“Pisa provides a snapshot of an education system, it does not tell the whole story. But what is clear is that countries such as Finland and Estonia which have taken a very different path to that of England, are seeing their education system do so much better than ours. This demonstrates that school systems can succeed without high-stakes testing and without punitive school inspections. What is key to those countries’ success is valuing education for its own sake, placing an emphasis on children’s happiness and wellbeing, investing in teachers and resources and focusing on collaboration not competition. The UK Government would do well to learn those lessons and change course before it is too late.”

Editor's Note:

Our comment on the global results is available here.