Tag Archives: Elizabeth Truss

Global Pisa tests, the new way to compare against other countries

Well it’s back in the news again folks, UK versus the rest of the world in an education battle of the brainiest. We hear the government talking about it all the time and how we should have the ‘best education system in the world’ and whatever else they want to throw at us.

Well guess what? The government are going to throw another test at our kids. HIP HIP HOORAY … not. Individual secondary schools in England will be able to take influential international tests to see how they compare with the highest performing schools in Asia and Europe.

OECD Pisa tests are used to measure and compare the educational standards of developed countries around the world. But from next year individual schools will be able to test their 15-year-old pupils in reading, maths and science. It will allow schools to see how their pupils rank against global standards.

Education Minister Liz Truss said it was an “excellent opportunity for schools to compare themselves against the world’s best education systems”.

Essex County Council said it is encouraging its schools to take part. Next month will see the publication of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) international league tables, based on Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests. These performance tables, which have become important international benchmarks, are published every three years, based on tests taken by a sample of schools in each country.

The OECD says that such school standards are an important indicator for future economic performance. Asian countries have dominated the top places in recent test results, with Scandinavian countries among the high flyers in Europe.

The UK has been a middle ranking performer, but within this national figure there will be a wide range of differences in ability, depending on region and type of school.

It has raised questions such as how cities such as London might compare with New York or Paris, if there was data beyond the national level.

The OECD is now going to allow individual schools in England to take the tests, so that they can see whether they are as good as pupils in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Finland, or whether they are falling behind the global competition.

Making the test available will “enable individual schools in England for the first time to see where they stand internationally”, says the OECD’s education chief, Andreas Schleicher. “This will help teachers and school leaders understand where to focus their efforts to raise standards and learn from successful school systems in other countries.”

Schools will be given an overall test score, rather than a breakdown of individual pupils. And the school scores, from tests that take about two and a half hours, will not be published by the OECD. The test papers will be marked externally.

Earlier this year this type of individual school testing was announced for the United States.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: “It is down to secondary schools themselves to decide whether they want to take part in these tests run by a highly respected, independent organisation. We see this is an excellent opportunity for schools to compare themselves against the world’s best education systems – and potentially against other schools from around the world.”

Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s cabinet member for education, said: “I will actively be encouraging Essex schools to take part to benefit from the ability to assess performance, share best practice and improve learning across the county.”

The only thing that’s interesting from a good perspective is that this isn’t compulsory. I’m grateful for that, because at 15, children will be taking on their GCSE work, so yeah let’s add another test and put more exam pressure on them. With these new GCSEs going back to O-level style work then it’s going to get even worse. I would hope that schools seriously consider what pressure they already put on kids to make sure that they don’t overload the kids and thus lose performance from them.

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The Free School Debacle – My take

It’s been an interesting weekend in terms of education this past weekend. Within the past couple of days, Michael Gove’s flagship policy, Free Schools have been back in the news once again.

Over the weekend, Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (who’s he?) has reported that Free Schools need tougher controls, ie only employing fully qualified teachers as opposed to the current structure when they can employ basically any Tom, Dick or Harry. Mr Clegg also doesn’t like the fact that Free Schools are not required to adhere to the national curriculum. He believes that they should follow the national curriculum so that parents can be sure that their children were receiving a high standard of education.

Well this morning the Tories, in particular Education Minister Elizabeth Truss, has hit back at Nick Clegg, outright rejecting the calls for tighter controls. Mrs Truss said: “It’s a shame some Lib Dems didn’t back Free Schools. The whole point of these schools is they have freedoms. That’s what’s helping them outperform maintained schools. On average, Free Schools are doing better … academies improve performance more rapidly.”

Ok Mrs Truss, I don’t like the fact that you are calling Academies and Free Schools the same thing. The reality is these two school systems, while they operate in a similar way, are not identical. Yes both are outside Local Authority control, do not have to adhere to the national curriculum (despite Ofsted assessing them against it), and they can employ unqualified teachers, but there is one key difference: who and how they are set up. Academies are often very high performing schools converting into an academy, or poor performing schools being ‘sponsored’ by someone on behalf of the DfE to build up support and the quality of the school. Free Schools are slightly different. Often these are set up by parent groups and are often state-funded, to which academies are not necessarily.

The other thing that bugs me about what Mrs Truss said was about Free Schools doing better. Am I the only one who thinks this is an attempt to try and make people forget about the al-Madinah Free School in Derby that was deemed inadequate by education watchdog Ofsted? This isn’t the only Free School deemed inadequate or requires improvement either. This means that even Ofsted, who largely will want to produce results which will please the government, are not necessarily that impressed by some Free Schools.

I also agree with Mr Clegg with respect to the curriculum, although with some limitations. Mr Clegg makes the point: “why do we have a national curriculum if only a handful of schools have to teach it?” He’s right in that sense, but what he’s ignoring is whether this curriculum is fit for purpose. In many respects, the national curriculum isn’t for teachers, pupils or parents. It is largely for the government to say ‘look at our education system! This is what English children can do at this age!’ What the current curriculum, and in some respects even the curriculum due to come in over the next couple of years, both primary and secondary, neglects is the ability to be creative with children’s learning.