Dr Paul Cappon, a Canadian academic and DFE Policy Fellow, was asked by the Secretary of State to undertake, in 2014-15, a review and to formulate findings, conclusions and recommendations that could inform policy deliberations in the Department.
Some of his findings and recommendations will make uncomfortable reading for Ministers. but it is to the Departments credit, at least in this instance, that they have made Cappons findings public. He notes that the UK in Pisa rankings is stagnating. He writes:
’ It is certainly a troubling trend that the UK has failed to increase its absolute scores in any of these competencies (maths, science, reading) since 2006.’ ‘Whilst other countries have improved their performance and therefore their ranking through better educational practice, the UK has not’. Indeed, while top performers are regarded as key drivers of economic prosperity in the UK, just 11.% of students are top performers ( Levels 5 and 6)which is below the OECD average of 12.6% . Nor can the UK be proud of its record on Equity. He writes ‘ In some countries, a deficiency of elite performers may be partially compensated by educational performance equity, by which there are smaller gaps between higher and lower performers. Such, however, is neither the case in the UK, where there is neither elite performance nor notable equity in educational outcomes in key areas.’ This is troubling, of course. But its perhaps even more troubling , given the focus and priority afforded to improving our pupils Literacy and Numeracy ( (during the the Blair Years) how badly our young students are performing in these critical areas. It doesn’t augur well for our future competitiveness.
‘In both literacy and numeracy, for each of the age bands from the 55-65 group to the 16-24 cohort, English scores decline progressively. In the example of literacy, English people aged 55-65 rank third in the OECD whilst the 19-24 group ranks 20th –even lower than the U.S.(US angst over Pisa results is even greater than ours where both wealthy and disadvantaged pupils perform worse than the OECD average).’
Cappon says ‘England is unique in the developed world as the only OECD country in which literacy scores achieved by the oldest group are actually higher than those achieved by the youngest cohort – in direct contradiction to the expectation that the younger cohorts globally are benefitting from improved education.’
What is clear is that although policy makers here understand the nature of the problem and have, through the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies for example, sought to address it, it hasn’t worked. And it cant just be a matter of resources, given the amount of investment that has gone into addressing the problem. It’s the quality not the amount that matters. This is where we have to rethink from the bottom up our approaches to Literacy and Numeracy and to ensure that interventions are properly informed by the latest empirical evidence.