UK pupils’ science and maths scores lowest since 2006 in international tests | Education #pupils #science #maths #scores #lowest #international #tests #Education

The UK has suffered a sharp decline in its performance in the latest round of influential international academic tests, wiping out recent progress, as the widespread disruption caused by Covid continued to take its toll on education.

The OECD’s programme for international student assessment (Pisa), which compares educational attainment among 15-year-olds around the world, showed UK schoolchildren achieved their lowest scores in mathematics and science since 2006 – the first year of comparable data.

Reading results were also down, close to the previous minimum in 2009, but other participating countries had even greater declines in attainment, which meant the UK slightly improved its ranking in the global league tables for maths and reading, despite its reduced scores.

About 690,000 pupils from 81 countries and economies took part in the 2022 Pisa assessment, the results of which were published on Tuesday after a year-long delay due to the global pandemic, which inevitably shaped the latest set of results.

UK maths results slumped by 13 points and reading by 10 compared with the last Pisa round in 2018, while attainment in science, which has been in long-term decline, went down a further five points. The average OECD maths performance, by comparison, dropped by almost 16 points over the same period. Previously such changes have never exceeded four points.

There were marked differences between the four UK nations, with England coming out on top, having achieved a mean Pisa maths score of 492 compared with the OECD average of 472, taking England from 17th in the Pisa rankings for maths in 2018 to 11th in 2022. England also climbed from 14th to 13th position for reading, and remained in 13th for science, according to the Department for Education.

Wales has registered the biggest drops in all three subjects between 2018 and 2022

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said the latest set of results “cemented” England as one of the top-performing countries for education in the western world. “These results are testament to our incredible teachers, the hard work of students and to the government’s unrelenting drive to raise school standards over the past 13 years,” she said.

“Our teachers, head teachers and support staff should be incredibly proud of their role, day in and day out, transforming education standards in this country and giving our children the platform to build successful careers and compete for the best jobs in world.”

However Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, questioned the reliability of the data as the UK’s response rate fell below the OECD’s official requirements. He said: “This should not be the occasion for a fanfare: England’s schools have been sold short by their government for more than a decade.”

Wales struggled at the bottom of the domestic table with a 21-point drop in its maths score since 2018, while Scotland’s went down by 18 points – roughly equivalent to the loss of a year’s learning, the OECD said.

“The last years haven’t been so great in Scotland,” said Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD. The results follow warnings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies last month that Scotland had experienced the largest historic decline in maths performance of the UK nations; it had been the best-performing in 2006.

The Pisa data showed Scotland was now the third-best in the UK behind England and Northern Ireland on maths, with a mean score of 471, leaving it 55th out of 81 countries. Scotland’s decline was also larger than the OECD average of 16 points.

The OECD figures also raised significant questions about the Scottish government’s attempts to narrow the attainment gap between poor and better-off pupils. It showed that gap was at its greatest in Scotland, at 16 points, compared with 10 for England, 12 for Northern Ireland and 10 for Wales.

2022 PISA scores have recorded some of the lowest levels

Jenny Gilruth, the Scottish education secretary, said Scotland’s performance on reading was stronger, placing it second in the UK, but the overall findings provided the Scottish government and councils with “key learning” on the need for action.

“As is well understood, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our young people and their experience of learning and teaching,” she said.

The Labour-led Welsh government said the pandemic had “derailed” progress it had been making in literacy and numeracy as it failed by a large margin to hit the Pisa targets it had set itself.

In maths, Wales’s mean score for 2022 was 466 after registering the largest drop in the four nations over the four years. In reading its mean score was also 466 (against 483 in 2018) and in science 473 (488 in 2018), again the worst of the four nations in both.

The Welsh education minister, Jeremy Miles, said: “Before the pandemic, we saw a strong improvement in literacy and numeracy standards in Wales. Sadly, it is clear that the pandemic has derailed some of this improvement.”

As with previous Pisa cycles, the highest-performing education systems were in east Asia, with Singapore outperforming all other education systems in all subjects. Japan, Taiwan, Macau and South Korea were also near the top of the tables in all three subject areas, with Estonia the standout success in Europe once again.

The OECD said there had been an “unprecedented” drop in attainment globally, with mean performance in OECD countries down 11 points in reading and almost 16 in maths – equivalent to three-quarters of a year’s worth of learning.

Some countries managed to maintain and even improve their performance despite Covid, but Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland had some of the most dramatic declines, with a drop of 25 score points or more in maths between 2018 and 2022.

While the pandemic, which closed schools for months at a time in countries across the world and led to remote education, was the most obvious explanation for the decline in results, the OECD said students in countries such as Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic and Sweden had scored lower marks for up to a decade or more.

“This indicates that long-term issues in education systems are also to blame for the drop in performance. It is not just about Covid,” the OECD said.

Natalie Perera, the chief executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: “Today’s Pisa results confirm that England, alongside many other OECD nations, has experienced considerable learning loss as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, England does remain above the OECD average in all subjects: maths, reading and science.”

Perera also noted that the reported life satisfaction scores of UK students had fallen drastically between 2015 and 2022, to the extent that the UK now has the second-lowest average life satisfaction of 15-year-olds across all OECD countries.

“The government must prioritise education and, in particular, address the urgent teacher recruitment and retention issues that the country is facing. But the challenges for young people span wider than just education,” she said.

PISA 2022 results searchable table

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