England participates in three research studies that enable international benchmarking of the performance of our pupils against the performance of their peers in other countries:
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares the mathematics, science and reading competence of 15-year-olds across participating countries. Further information can be found online at: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which compares the mathematics and science abilities of pupils in year 5 and year 9 in England with their peers in comparable grades in participating countries. More information can be found online at: http://www.iea.nl/timss_2015.html
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which compares the reading ability of pupils in year 5 in England with their peers in comparable grades in participating countries. This is available online at: http://www.iea.nl/pirls_2016.html
Northern Ireland also participates in each of these three studies, and all four UK countries participate in the OECD’s PISA study.
In England and Wales, schools can also access the OECD’s PISA-based test for schools, which provides schools with a tool to benchmark the performance of their 15-year-old pupils within and beyond local and national borders, and is available online at: www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/pisa-based-test-for-schools.htm
Benchmarking against the best in the world is thought to be good practice. But there are concerns that data used from these studies are misused (a concern shared by Andreas Schleicher of OECD who presides over PISA) and are taken out of context by politicians who rarely know the difference, it seems, between causation and correlation.
England performs better than both Wales (a laggard) and Scotland in PISA tables. Interestingly, although much is made of the fact that England performs comparatively poorly in the tables (the latest showing no real movement up or down) and our politicians use PISA to exhort our schools to do better, there is nothing obvious in recent education reforms in England, which have focused mainly on structural reforms, that will ensure that our students do any better in the PISA tests, next time round. PISA tests aim not so much to test students’ knowledge, as to test students ability to use retained knowledge to problem solve.