Wales performs worst among UK nations in maths, reading and science
Welsh pupils are performing worst out of the UK nations in maths, reading and science, according to the latest PISA results announced today.
Within the UK’s four devolved education systems, England was the highest achiever in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment, which is based on tests taken by 15-year-olds from around the world.
Northern Ireland outperformed Scotland at maths and science and Scotland was better than Northern Ireland at reading.
The study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which assessed students’ skills and knowledge in maths, reading and science in 81 countries and regions, found “an unprecedented drop in performance” across many countries compared with 2018.
In the UK, in maths and reading, all gains observed in the previous PISA cycle in 2018 were reverted as the mean scores dropped from 502 to 489 (13 points) and from 504 to 494 (10 points), respectively.
The UK’s mean score in science in the latest Pisa study confirmed a decade-long decline in performance, dropping to 500 in 2022 from 505 in 2018.
Education Minister Jeremy Miles says plans are in place in Wales to regain pre-pandemic progress in key subject areas.
Of the 73 countries who took part in the assessment in 2018 and 2022, all but ten saw a decline in at least one area this year.
Wales is alongside countries such as the United States and Norway in reading, maths and science scores in 2022, following an improving picture in the 2019 PISA results.
The Welsh Government says it has committed to bring together education leaders across Wales to drive a system-wide response to support teaching and learning and drive up standards.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Education, Laura Anne Jones said the results are reflective of money being spent elsewhere on “pet projects” instead of education.
She said: “The results today are not a shock when we have a Labour Government which has so little regard for our children’s future that they actually cut the education budget this year. All governments should be giving pupils and teachers the tools to do their best and thrive.
“After 25 years of Labour running Welsh schools we have a widening attainment gap, funding being spent on the pet project of more politicians and sadly once again Wales languishing at the bottom of international league tables.
“The Labour Education Minister needs to get a grip of his department and give our young people the start in life they deserve. He can start by getting 5,000 more teachers back into our classrooms after years of declining numbers and the desperately needed money to support growing ALN numbers in mainstream education.”
Plaid Cymru’s education spokesperson, Heledd Fychan MS, said: “The PISA results published today should be a wake up call for the Welsh Government.
“Too many young people in Wales are living in poverty, pupil absences are unacceptably high and many schools are facing a significant deficit in their budgets. Despite the hard work and dedication of an overstretched workforce, the pupil attainment gap is widening and we cannot ignore the link between poverty and today’s disappointing results.
“Every child, no matter their background should have an equal chance of succeeding in life.
“We need more than platitudes and excuses from the Minister for Education in response to these results. Wales had a pre Covid recruitment crisis in the education sector, the magnitude of which Ministers failed to grasp. Continuing and entrenching cuts to education will do nothing to put Wales on a path towards a turnaround in our PISA results.”
The study is usually carried out every three years but the latest round of assessment – which was due to take place in 2021 – was postponed by a year due to Covid-19.
The exceptional circumstances throughout this period included lockdowns and school closures in many countries, including the UK.
Around 690,000 students took the Pisa assessment in 2022 across the 81 countries and regions where they sat two-hour tests, each devoted to one subject.
Students also answered a background questionnaire which sought information about their attitudes, beliefs, their homes, and their school and learning experiences.
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.
“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.
“Last month we launched literacy and numeracy plans to help support learning and raise standards in these key areas. I have also published the first national report on the performance of our children in reading and numeracy and will do this annually to track recovery. “We supported our schools and learners through the pandemic, we will stand together and support them now.”
Since 2022, schools in Wales have started implementing major long-term reforms, with the new Curriculum for Wales being taught and rolled out sequentially to reach all learners in all schools from 2026/27.
Mr Miles added: “Our long-term education reforms have now started after years of planning and, as the OECD have said, improvement to education takes time.
“We have taken a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise the quality of education in Wales and I’m confident we will deliver huge benefits for our young people.”
Despite the lower results, the UK has climbed the rankings in maths to joint 12th, alongside Belgium, Denmark and Poland, up from joint 17th in 2018.
In reading, the UK has also risen to 13th, up from joint 14th in 2018, when the previous Pisa assessments were carried out.
In science, the UK was ranked joint 14th, alongside Slovenia – the same ranking achieved in 2018.
Singapore topped all three categories in the 2022 Pisa assessment.
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