Monday 5th December was the International Day of Soil. Tuesday 6th December was the day the latest PISA results were released. From Soil to Toil. UK schools hover around 15th to 20th in the international league. England does best (if that's the right word) with Northern Ireland a close second; the Scots are going steadily backwards, thanks, some say, to Curriculum for what passes for Excellence [Note 1]; the Welsh are below the PISA OECD country average for everything, despite everything and the promise of ESDGC. Here's a handy, if brief, guide to the UK scores from WalesonLine. As a rough guide, a gap of 30 PISA points is the equivalent of a year of schooling. Compared to England, the gaps for Wales are: Science – 27 Reading – 23 Maths – 15. Mind you, perhaps the more pertinent gaps are those between the UK and those at the top of the table.
In relation to Wales, here's Dylan William's pre-publication comment on why we shall learn very little from the scores. I found this insightful until I got to the last part of his conclusion:
"The truth is, despite all the heat that will be generated by discussions of the Pisa results, we will learn little. Whether this year's results are better or worse than those from 2012, whether Wales performs as well as our industrial competitors, doesn't really matter. We need to improve education in Wales because of the profound changes that are taking place in society and work. Our world is becoming more and more complex, and so higher and higher levels of educational achievement will be needed to be in control of one's own life, to understand one's culture, to participate meaningfully in democracy, and to find fulfilling work. Like many others, I will be looking at the Pisa results when they come out on 6 December. But I won't be trying to figure out how to improve student achievement in Wales, because we already know what we need to do. We need to create a culture in which every teacher in Wales accepts the need to improve - not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better - and when teachers do their jobs better, their students are healthier, live longer and contribute more to society. There is no limit to what we can achieve if we support our teachers in the right way."
"We need to create a culture in which every teacher in Wales accepts the need to improve" and, presumably, to understand how to do that, and why it's proving so difficult. I wondered what "the right way" is, and whether everyone understands. Here's the BBC's John Humphries exploring the wheres and whys of education in Wales right now.
Meanwhile, the Times (on Wednesday) sort of agreed: "The fundamental requirement for world-class schools is simple: world-class teachers". Well, it may be a fundamental requirement, but it's surely not the only one, which invites the question of whether a 21st century education needs to deal with 21st century issues. That is, what part does curriculum play in all this (lack of) success? Expect a return to this issue ...
Meanwhile, here's a letter about the Scottish state of play to The Times last week from Dornoch:
"There are many able state pupils in Scotland who would gladly swap their incessant group work, pair work, peer-review sessions, poster-making and “life skills” classes for some academic rigour. These pupils are clearly being short-changed under the Curriculum for Excellence as they are denied the quality of education that so many of their counterparts in England are now receiving."
I also read that the outgoing chief of Ousted has accused the Scots of holding the UK back in the PISA stakes. Cheeky. Given that Curriculum for Excellence is an SNP policy initiative, to criticise it is to criticise the SNP; however, because the SNP is standing up for Scotland, to criticise the SNP is to criticise Scotland – and therefore to be un-Scottish. Things have come to a sorry state in North Britain.