Amid the many headlines about England’s relative rankings, there are powerful reasons to celebrate the successes in our education system, while also recognising the challenges. Here are five very important messages that may have been overlooked yesterday.
1. England has some of the best young scientists anywhere in the world
I was heartened to read Education Datalab’s blog claiming that England has “some of the best young scientists anywhere in the world”. What an astonishing claim. Indeed, Andreas Schleicher himself said that the United Kingdom is one of only seven countries where students do well in science, enjoy science and want to become scientists.
Education Datalab says when we focus on the top 10 percent of pupils in science, England is among the world’s leading countries. In only three countries (Singapore, Taiwan and Japan) are the top 10 percent of pupils more than a school term ahead of the top 10 percent of pupils in England in science.
2. Our young people think science is important for their future
Although there has been general concern in England about interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (so called ‘STEM’ subjects), PISA results show that the majority of pupils in England view science as relevant to their future – and this is irrespective of gender or socio-economic status.
More than a quarter of pupils in England hope to be working in a science-related career by the age of 30, which is above the average across the high-performing countries, and almost double the proportion seen in 2006 – the joint highest increase internationally over this period.
3. Science teachers in England provide regular feedback to their pupils
The PISA report says that science teachers in England provide more regular feedback to pupils on their strengths and weaknesses - including specific areas they can improve - than teachers in many other countries. And 15-year olds in England are more likely to say that their science teacher regularly provides constructive feedback.
4. Headteachers take a proactive, collaborative approach to school leadership
As part of the PISA study, headteachers from participating schools were asked to complete a questionnaire on their school environment. The PISA findings reveal that “Headteachers in England report taking on a more proactive and collaborative approach to school leadership and management than headteachers in high-performing countries. For instance, headteachers in England are much more likely to regularly use pupils’ performance data to develop their school’s educational goals.”
And heads in England are generally positive about the resources available to support science learning within their schools.
In response to the PISA results, the government has today announced a £12.1 million investment until 2019 to support the teaching of science in schools. The package will provide continued professional development for science teachers, support schools to share best practice and offer tailored in-school support. It will be delivered through a network of national science learning partnerships.
5. Our schools have robust quality assurance processes
Robust quality assurance processes are vital to improvement in the field. It is therefore very encouraging that PISA finds that our education system is one in which extensive quality assurance processes are already in place. Almost every headteacher in England reported that “self-evaluation, external evaluation, teacher mentoring, systematic recording of pupil data and test results, and written specification of goals and performance standards were used in their schools.”
There is much to learn from the PISA findings – and still a lot to do to enable our education system to make the leap from good to great. But it is worth pausing to acknowledge what we do well, and to thank our teachers and leaders for commitment, professionalism and solid good practice.
Let’s build on our successes.