You could tell the PISA scores were going to be bad when, just before publication, Mr Gove blamed the last government's policies. In the event, PISA revealed the UK to be around the OECD average for maths and reading, and a bit above average for Science – much as we were 3 years ago. Whilst the scores for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland were broadly the same, the Welsh scores were even lower (by comparison) that they were in 2009 when they were last computed. For example, in the OECD's country note for the UK (well worth a read), we find the following:
Scores for mathematics were similar in England (495) and Scotland (498). In both cases this showed little change from PISA 2009, where the scores were 493 and 499 respectively. The score in Northern Ireland was 487, compared with a score of 492 in PISA 2009. As in PISA 2009, mathematics performance in Wales was lower than the rest of the UK, with a score of 468 points compared with 472 in PISA 2009.
It's a broadly similar story for reading and science. All told, the gap between the best in the UK and the worst (Wales) has probably got a bit bigger. Here's what the BBC Wales's political reporter says today:
The build-up to the release of this set of Pisa rankings has felt a bit like waiting for examination results, when you know you've answered the questions incorrectly. You spend months softening up relatives, warning them a star pupil is not about to emerge anytime soon. And so the Welsh government has been telling anyone who will listen not to expect good news from Pisa. We've started the groundwork, it says, but it is too early for that to come out in the tests.
Not a great message, as Wales slips further behind both the rest of the world and elsewhere in the UK in the these tests. Welsh ministers will have their work cut out convincing people their aim of putting Wales amongst the top 20 Pisa nations in the next round of tests in 2015 is realistic. They'll have to strike a balance between making reassuring noises, that things are set to improve, and not sounding complacent. Opposition parties can legitimately point out that Labour, in one form or another, has been in charge of education in Wales for sixteen years. With ministers dealing with difficult changes in the NHS, they must now be ready for another battle, on the state of our children's education, right up to the 2016 assembly election.
As I noted earlier, the OECD country note is worth a read, no matter how sceptical you are about all this (as, of course, one should be). I was struck by this comment:
"… students from an immigrant background (first or second generation) in the United Kingdom perform as well in mathematics as other students. This is in contrast to the situation observed in many other OECD countries, where students from an immigrant background score significantly lower."
.. which bodes well for all our futures.