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Unions call for more funding after OECD reports ‘unprecedented’ drop in student performance

TEACHING unions scorned the latest education results for the UK nations today, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results show performances in all four nations fell.

The OECD report notes the latest results are “unprecedented,” with the average performance falling by 15 points in maths and 10 in reading.

It found that in 20 years of Pisa tests the average score has never changed by more than four points in mathematics or five points in reading between consecutive assessments.

“The dramatic fall in performance suggests a negative shock affecting many countries at the same time and Covid-19 would appear to be an obvious factor,” the OECD report said.

While politicians from each of the UK nations scurried to take credit and apportion blame, the education unions lined up to criticise the league-table approach taken by the OECD.

National Education Union (NEU) general secretary Daniel Kebede said: “The OECD bears some responsibility for this elevation of spin above substance.

“The organisation should think again about the way it publishes Pisa test results.

“It takes a very opportunistic government to present the OECD’s depiction of a global crisis for education as a national success story.”

He argued that in England the impact of Covid means that students’ results in reading, maths and science are lower than in 2018.

The PISA figures for Wales show the country as the lowest-ranking UK country, but the nation’s unions disagreed with the findings.

NASUWT Cymru’s Neil Butler said: “This is the Pisa distraction.

“The minister needs to concentrate on making the Welsh education service fit for purpose, not fit for Pisa. 

“The use of league tables is unhelpful. This sends politicians scurrying around like headless chickens which can cause problems for schools who face knee-jerk reactions and half-baked new initiatives.”

Mr Butler called on Welsh government education minister Jeremy Miles to focus on chronic underfunding, excessive class sizes, poor learner behaviour, excessive staff workload and low pay. 

Mr 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.

“We have already started on a path of driving up standards in reading and maths, and we won’t let these results knock us off track.”

In Scotland, Labour rushed to criticise the fall by 11 points of the country’s average reading score, despite it being higher than the OECD average and higher than 24 other nations.

Scottish Labour education spokeswoman Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “These results are a painful reminder of how children in Scotland are being let down by an SNP government that is out of touch and out of ideas.”

Scotland’s Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said: “While every country in the UK has seen a reduction in its Pisa scores, there will be key learning for the Scottish government to address.”


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