The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is making versions of its assessments in reading, maths and science for 15-year-olds available to individual schools for the first time this year following a successful pilot project.
Headteachers would have to pay thousands of pounds to take part but education and skills minister Huw Lewis believes it is money well spent, stating it would not be testing for testing’s sake, but “is a way of us seeing exactly where we are in the world and whether we are giving our young people the skills to support the economy and skills to find work in the future”.
School-based PISA will be administered and marked externally and students will be given about two-and-a-half-hours to complete the test and associated questionnaire. Upon completion, schools will be given test scores for their school as a whole – not the results of individual student performances – and they will not be published by the OECD.
Wales had the lowest performance in the UK in maths, reading and science in last year’s tests. And since 2007, Wales has slipped down the PISA rankings. As more countries have joined, it has moved from 22nd in science to joint-36th, dropped 10 places in maths and fallen from 29th in reading to 41st. The Welsh government has pledged that new policies will improve performance over time but believes practising tests will yield immediate improvements.
Calling on schools to take the tests, Mr Lewis said: “We already have a number of reforms in process but I have taken a long hard look at what PISA has told us and how we can improve. I want all learners to develop the cognitive and meta-cognitive skills that PISA demands. I want our students to develop those problem-solving and reasoning skills that are demanded in the workplace and life. That is why we are moving to new-style GCSEs which will test these skills more thoroughly and it is against this backdrop that we will take this work forward.”
The government’s renewed emphasis on future improvement comes after the first local education authority of 22 assessed by Estyn has been graded excellent. Ceredigion was the last council in Wales to be examined by the inspectorate in this round of assessments and became the first to receive the highest rating.
Assessors highlighted attendance rates, leadership and a pupil tracker system which checks student progress. Huw Lewis described it was “a landmark report” and said the council had proved that the “improvements we need to see in our schools are within our reach”.
Six local authorities in Wales remain in special measures.