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Using PISA wisely - a guest blog from the Chair of ASE's Research Specialist Group

3 December 2013

What are we to make of the 2012 PISA results recently published? The first report released on 3 Dec has 564 pages, quite a read. There is much commentary in newspapers and other media, each taking its own political line. It would be unwise simply to dismiss PISA, in the light of criticisms. However, it is also unwise to see PISA as a clear indicator of where we are in science for 15-16 year old students. It provides valuable data as an aid to reflection, based on 2 hour written tests, two thirds concerned with mathematics. In addition, the test model uses 13 different test booklets, distributed randomly among the 5000 or so students in the UK. Nevertheless, there are some clear pointers in the data. 

Socio-cultural background is correlated well with scores. To improve scores, we could do worse than just focusing on improving living standards for all.  All of the pundits across the political spectrum agree that educational change is slow and requires lots of effort. Quick fixes rarely fix. Assessing learning ('performance' in OfSTED terms) can hardly be done by short observation periods. The Measuring the Effectiveness of Teachers (MET) project (Gates Foundation, funded, $43 million) showed that multiple observations by highly trained observers was needed to get a reasonable MET score. 

Teacher education is a powerful lever in raising standards. Initial teacher education programmes in successful countries have a higher proportion of time in Higher Education than in school. High quality CPD for teachers already in post is equally important. It needs to be longer, with quality time, not just twilight time, and supported by schools' SMT. Abandoning LA CPD support, wholescale privatisation of CPD with few checks on its effectiveness other than popularity, restrictions by SMT on out of school CPD, fewer initiatives in CPD with little check on their successes, CPD that is largely instrumental, CPD that is too short and transmissive, are recent changes. John Hattie (at the World Conference on Science and Technology Education in October 2013) suggests that teachers taking their own learning seriously was key to their development. In this, he included teachers learning from student responses, and provided with time to analyse those responses to modify learning procedures. In a time of cuts, it is difficult to make a case for investment in this but we must do so. 

Focusing on league tables, as though education was like football results that can be reported in the media , provides a pale representation of the rich but limited data in these reports. Focusing on those areas that we can influence is more likely to improve science education than the usual rhetoric of blaming teachers (or of trumpeting 'the changes my Party has introduced'). The teachers I meet are keen to do better, but their morale is sapped by constant and unhelpful criticism. Support and development is what they need. 


John Oversby 150

Guest blog by

John Oversby (Chair, ASE Research Specialist Group) 

Views expressed are those of the author


Chris Harrison

Tue. 17/12/13

Thanks for this John. The aim behind these International comparisons is not to name and shame but for countries to look at how they are doing and whetherthe provision and support they are providing in education is sufficient. I am shocked by how little money is spent on professional development these days and the lack of support from SMT when tachers do try and bring innovations into their classroom. I greatly admire those colleagues who do regulalrly attend to their professional learning and I hope ASE wil be able to continue to support such colleagues through our journals, conferences, Teachmeets and networking. We have a new Working Group on Assembly devoted to Professional Learning and so let us know your ideas and thoughts on this as we strive to support new and established members.

See you all at Birmingham at the Annual Conference.

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