Today’s PISA results show the “phenomenal success” of “evidence-led” education reforms over the past 13 years, one of their chief architects has claimed.
Nick Gibb, who served three stints as schools minister between 2010 and this year, also paid tribute to teachers who had “embraced” reforms to maths, after England improved its standing in the international league tables.
Results from the 2022 PISA tests, taken by 15-year-olds across the world, show scores in maths, reading and science all fell relative to 2018 after the Covid pandemic.
However, England’s results held up better than others’ – with the country rising to 11th in the world in maths, with reading and science remaining relatively unchanged at 13th.
The OECD, which runs PISA, has urged caution on drawing conclusions from England’s results because a small sample size means they are could be overinflated.
But the rankings are a big improvement from 2009, the year before Labour left office, when England was 27th for maths, 25th for reading and 16th for science.
Addressing the official PISA results launch in London this morning, Gibb, who quit last month as a minister to pursue a career in the diplomatic service, pointed to the “importance” of teacher autonomy.
“One of the things I’m most proud of, actually, is if you like freeing the profession to engage in the debate about pedagogy and curriculum, entering the secret garden in a way that really hadn’t happened here.”
He cited the emergence of teacher blogging and conferences, such as ResearchED, where “1,000 teachers and turn up on a wet Saturday in a school somewhere in the country and listen to other people talking about evidence-led education policy because it is a phenomenal success in this country”.
“And because of that I’m confident that our education reforms are here to last. And I think we can be confident that in future PISA results, our scores will continue to improve as we recover from Covid. And I thank you very much … the teaching profession for everything they’ve achieved.”
Gibb feared Maths reforms were ‘too demanding’
Gibb has long advocated a traditionalist, knowledge-rich approach to teaching, use of which has become widespread across England.
Education policy experts have pointed to England performing “signifantly” better in all subjects than Wales this year, and much better than Scotland in maths and science, as evidence the approach works.
Reforms in both Scotland and Wales have followed a more progressive approach to education.
A key plank of reform for the Conservatives was introducing new, tougher GCSEs.
Gibb thanked teachers for “adapting” to these, adding: “I was worried about that, to be frank, when we introduced the maths GCSE because it was very demanding. And I feared that it would lead to a drop-off of young people wanting to take A-level maths.
“In fact, because it’s much better preparation for A-level we now have record numbers taking A-level maths.”