The new schools minister has said there is “good reason for optimism” following the publication of the latest PISA results, but warned he was “far from being able to say the job is done”.
In his first official public appearance since he was appointed, Damian Hinds praised the “huge amount achieved by pupils, teachers, leaders, support staff, everybody involved in education”.
Today’s data shows that England’s scores in maths, reading and science fell in 2022, reflecting the impact of Covid. Despite this, England rose to 11th in the world for maths, while it remained in a similar position as in 2018 for reading and science.
The results also come with the caveat that around one in three schools and one in four pupils overall refused to take part in the study – meaning that England’s response rate fell below the PISA sample standards.
This meant “higher performing pupils may be overrepresented” and some results “may therefore be somewhat higher than they might otherwise be”.
But Hinds said that “with that caveat, I think ladies and gentlemen there is good reason for optimism about education in England and the prospects of getting that disadvantaged gap closing once again”.
“There has been a huge amount achieved by pupils, teachers, leaders, support staff, everybody involved in education, with an awful lot of very hard work.”
But he added “we are far from being able to say the job is done, and even more so with the disruption dealt by Covid”.
“And while we cannot, sadly, make sure that every child has exactly the same opportunities at home, we must have that opportunity for when they come to school.
“And my job is to make sure that by the next PISA survey, our progress towards a fairer, more inclusive society is only going in one direction and that continues to be forwards.”
Pupils may have been busy with catch-up
Pressed further on the lower response rate in England, Hinds said the right number of schools had responded, but “on individual students, we’re not at the not at the threshold”.
“There will be some of those children in particular who were on catch up, in particular interventions, and so I suspect it will be a range of issues.”
Alfonso Echazarra, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which organises the PISA tests, said the schools that did not participate were “not very different from those who actually participated”.
But that there were differences at a student level, he said, meaning reading and maths scores could be overstated by “between five and 10 points”. If scores were reduced, the UK would still be above the OECD average in the three subjects. But the margin in maths would be “very small”.
However, Echazarra said the results overall showed a “positive message”.
“I’m quite convinced that the UK actually held a little bit better than other countries on average in the OECD. And I think so in relative terms, I think I would be positive about what happened in the UK between 2018 and 2022.”