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Wales improves in global education tests, but still behind rest of UK in reading

Improving, but can do better.

That's the verdict on the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report on educational standards in Wales published today.

Credit: PA

The report - which is released every three years and looks at performance in maths, reading and science across more than 70 countries - shows that Wales has closed the gap on Scotland and Northern Ireland in maths and science.

But we're still lagging behind England in both areas.

When it comes to reading, there's ground to make up on all three UK nations.

And, concerningly, Welsh pupils report above average levels of unhappiness compared with their counterparts from other OECD countries.

Credit: PA
3155
pupils at 107 Welsh schools took part in PISA tests last year.
600,000
students, aged 15-16, took the tests across 79 countries.

In Wales, the results were an improvement on those published in 2016.

In reading, pupils scored 483, a 6 point improvement on last time.

In mathematics, the score was 487, up from 478.

And in science, the result was 488, up 3 points from the previous score.

For maths and science, the Welsh score did not significantly differ from Scotland, Northern Ireland or the OECD average.

In reading, the Welsh score was similar to the OECD average but significantly behind the other UK nations.

And Welsh pupils continue to lag behind England in all 3 areas.

PISA results in Wales:

Reading:

  • 2009 - 476
  • 2012 - 480
  • 2015 - 477
  • 2018 - 483

Science:

  • 2009 - 496
  • 2012 - 480
  • 2015 - 477
  • 2018 - 483

Mathematics:

  • 2009 - 472
  • 2012 - 480
  • 2015 - 477
  • 2018 - 483

We certainly have made progress, increasing our scores and this is down to the hard work of our teachers and our students, but clearly there is further progress to be made.

We find ourselves in a similar position to The Netherlands, to Switzerland, to Austria and I think we can be proud of that.

With the reform of our curriculum will I believe lead to increases in performance as we move forward so I'm pleased with the progress that we have undoubtably made, but there is more to do.

We want to reflect on the deep, rich data that the PISA test allows us to ensure that is fed into our continuing reform of our whole school approach to promoting good mental health and a sense of real well-being amongst our children and young people.

– Kirsty Williams AM, Education Secretary

The results also show there's been an increase in top-performing Welsh students - with 7% of pupils attaining level 5 or 6 in reading and maths - while the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged pupils has narrowed.

But the PISA report revealed that headteachers in Wales were more likely than those in other UK nations to report shortages of "educational materials", like textbooks and IT equipment.

And perhaps most concerning, the report showed levels of wellbeing among Welsh pupils were lower than among their counterparts elsewhere.

54% reported feeling miserable ‘sometimes or always.’ (compared with the OECD average of 39%). 63% said they sometimes or always felt worried (OECD average 50%). And although 80% reported feeling joyful, that figure still lagged behind the OECD average of 89%.

The National Foundation for Educational Research - an independent body - said the findings "warrant further investigation."

Here's a specimen question from the PISA Tests:

Professor's blog

As I look out of my window this morning, I see the landscape I have learned to love here on Rapa Nui, which is known in some places by the name Easter Island. The grasses and shrubs are green, the sky is blue, and the old, now extinct volcanoes rise up in the background.

I am a bit sad knowing that this is my last week on the island. I have finished my field work and will be returning home. Later today, I will take a walk through the hills and say good-bye to the moai that I have been studying for the past nine months. Here is a picture of some of these massive statues.

If you have been following my blog this year, then you know that the people of Rapa Nui carved these moai hundreds of years ago. These impressive moai had been carved in a single quarry on the eastern part of the island. Some of them weighed thousands of kilos, yet the people of Rapa Nui were able to move them to locations far away from the quarry without cranes or any heavy equipment.

For years, archeologists did not know how these massive statues were moved. It remained a mystery until the 1990s, when a team of archeologists and residents of Rapa Nui demonstrated that the moai could have been transported and raised using ropes made from plants and wooden rollers and tracks made from large trees that had once thrived on the island. The mystery of the moai was solved.

Another mystery remained, however. What happened to these plants and large trees that had been used to move the moai? As I said, when I look out of my window, I see grasses and shrubs and a small tree or two, but nothing that could have been used to move these huge statues. It is a fascinating puzzle, one that I will explore in future posts and lectures. Until then, you may wish to investigate the mystery yourself. I suggest you begin with a book called Collapse by Jared Diamond. This review of Collapse is a good place to start.

QUESTION:

In the last paragraph of the blog, the professor writes: “Another mystery remained...”

To what mystery does she refer?