PISA: Results show ‘significant de-emphasis’ on science – Spielman

While England's maths and reading scores had been improving, science results have fallen steadily since 2012

While England's maths and reading scores had been improving, science results have fallen steadily since 2012

Scrapping key stage 3 SATs, science tests for year 6 pupils and abandoning subject-level inspection have resulted in a “significant de-emphasis” of the subject, Ofsted’s chief has warned following the release of PISA results.

Today’s results show England still ranks 13th in the world for science, the same level as in the 2018 test, whereas its position in maths improved from 17th to 11th and reading from 14th to 13th.

However while results for maths and reading have been improving since 2012, scores in science have been falling steadily.

Amanda Spielman, the outgoing Ofsted chief inspector speaking at the official launch of the results this morning, said three “significant policy decisions” had contributed to this.

Unlike those taking PISA tests 10 or 15 years ago, those taking the 2022 assessments had “been through education in a world where there weren’t key stage 3 tests, where there weren’t key stage 2 science tests and where all subject level inspection had been removed from inspection”.

“So the intersection of those policies created I think a significant de-emphasis of science relative to reading and maths, possibly also other parts of the curriculum.

“So really thinking about how the strategic levers in the system, create the right incentives for the whole curriculum, not just for the tremendously important reading and maths, but that there is more to education.”

Spielman argued for tutoring performance focus

The PISA report also looked at whether different education systems targeted interventions at disadvantaged pupils, or all those considered to be low-performing, irrespective of their background.

Spielman said “if you look at high-performing countries, but specifically at the set of countries identified as both high performing and high equity, it’s very clear that the skew in those countries is towards policies targeted at low performance, rather than a policies directly targeted at students who are low on the socio economic scale.

“I’m pulling this up because it’s somewhat counterintuitive, I think, to many people to think that the best way to create equity isn’t necessarily simply to channel resource directly at the subset of most disadvantaged students, that we may actually do better for them by approaching things in a slightly a slightly different way.”

The report found countries such as Australia, Korea and Sweden targeted low-performing students, while those such as Japan, the Netherlands and Poland targeted low-performing schools.

Spielman added discussion on this topic had “cropped up in the context of the tutoring programme” and “whether it should be targeted primarily on students from low income families and other kinds of disadvantage, or whether it should be focused primarily on the peoples who, for whatever reason, had fallen out of the range of the current classroom”.

“I argued for the latter. But I understand the emotional pull of always directly targeting disadvantage.”

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  1. This article is misleading. England did not improve scores in maths or reading. It just didn’t drop as much as other countries allowing the ranking to increase. Data is being obscured in order to justify inspection and and assessment while in reality scores show performance is dropping. Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute states
    ‘Educational trajectories were negative well before the pandemic hit. This indicates that long-term issues in education systems are also to blame for the drop in performance. It is not just about Covid’ Teacher retention and autonomy are factors named and not an issue in the republic as of Ireland which out ranks the U.K in all areas. Let teachers teach then you will see real improvement improvements in scores and wouldn’t need to manipulate data to make a point.

  2. Chris Bentley

    Completely predictable following Gove’s appalling decision to remove Science SATs and introduce Spelling & Grammar.
    Curriculum vandalism that has negatively impacted millions of pupils’ school experience. Downgrading a core subject that nurtures children’s natural curiosity about ‘How the world works?’ was a huge mistake.