UK scores expected to fall in Pisa education study

<span>Photograph: David Jones/PA</span>
Photograph: David Jones/PA

UK scores in tests that compare educational attainment among 15-year-olds around the world are likely to fall when they are published this week, after the disruption that Covid caused to learning.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will publish the results of its latest programme for international student assessment (Pisa) on Tuesday, a year later than expected due to the pandemic.

One expert predicted that England’s scores in mathematics, which markedly improved in the last round of tests, would fall back this year. Results in English were also likely to suffer, but probably less so, he said.

Pisa, which began in 2000 and is ordinarily held every three years, compares standardised test results in reading, maths and science across about 80 countries. Participating governments study the rankings closely for evidence that their education policies are having a positive impact when compared with other countries.

This year’s results are expected to be like no other after Covid wrought havoc on education systems around the world. Many countries are bracing themselves for a decline in performance, while school absences also continue to be a concern in the UK and elsewhere.

In recent years, the UK has made positive progress in the Pisa rankings, while remaining outside the top 10, lagging behind high performers such as China, Singapore and Estonia, which was Europe’s standout performer in the last survey in 2018. There were improvements in Wales in 2018, but more mixed results for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In 2018 the survey included a wellbeing questionnaire, which found that schoolchildren in Britain were more likely to be miserable and less likely to think their lives had meaning compared with children in many other countries. Britain ranked 69th out of 72 countries for pupils’ life satisfaction.

John Jerrim, a professor of education and social statistics at UCL Institute of Education, said he expected Pisa maths scores in England, which rose by 11 points in 2018 after a long period at the same level, to fall back this time, judging by recent national reference test results, which track performance over time. Scores in English are likely to be less affected, he said, based on other test results suggesting that English learning was less affected by Covid.

“England was pretty stable from 2006 to 2015 and then there was a big uptick in maths. In reading there was a kind of shallow trajectory. Science was flat for ages and last time dipped a bit,” he said. “In terms of scores [this year], we’re probably expecting some shift downwards in England, but also in all countries, because of the Covid factor. How big a decline, I’m not entirely sure.”