The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released the scores from Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2015 today reflecting England’s rise from 21st to 15th position in science. When we focus upon the top 10 per cent of pupils in science, the UK is amongst the world’s leading countries. England has some of the best young scientists anywhere in the world, and pupils think science is important for their future too. And while this is cause to celebrate, spirits are dampened slightly when one sees the OECD’s further findings which show the rest of the country trying to climb the ranks. There have been significant falls in the science performance of the most able pupils in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales since 2006. In each of these countries, the fall since 2006 has been around 30 PISA test points (one year of schooling) and sometimes more.
So what are we doing wrong?
A 2015 survey shows that more than half of all teachers are considering leaving the profession in the next two years due to workload and low morale. According to OECD education chief, Andreas Schleicher, spending per student only accounts for 20 percent of why a country performs well. He further highlighted concerns about the impact of teacher shortages warning that head teachers saw a teacher shortage as “a major bottleneck” to raising standards.
To make a real difference a country must invest in its teachers. Teachers, after all, go beyond their roles as educators; they influence ideas and life choices, moulding whole generations of thinkers and leaders. Yet each year sees structural policies within education while teachers go neglected.
So what have the PISA results really taught us?
Teachers should be on top of the list. High-performing countries like Singapore and China recognise this need, investing heavily in closer engagement of teachers in developing and sharing professional knowledge. Most years PISA score results spin out into criticism towards teachers. Yet most teachers treat their jobs as vocations, investing heavily into their students and delivering the best quality of education possible.
Digital technology can provide an answer, with studies pointing to teachers who use ICT to deliver lessons in the classroom work less those who don’t. Technology, however, is just one resource that can supplement a teacher not substitute one. Ultimately the latest PISA scores highlight the need to value to the most important asset education has – teachers.
One resource primary school teachers can draw from is Reach Out CPD. The 30 courses cover a range of science topics – everything from teaching plants to planets, with practical resources (such as short films, activities and experiments) that can be used directly in class. This resource – free in the UK – seeks to boost confidence amongst teachers, enabling them to teach with confidence whilst only committing to the time available to them.
Perhaps 2016 will see a wider allocation of training, and resources to make workloads manageable and let teachers do what they do best – inspire young minds.