Education has continued to feature in these final days of the 2019 election campaign.
It, or specifically legislation on per pupil funding, features in the Conservatives’ ‘battle plan’ for any first 100 days in office released this week while Labour has been pressing home its plans for education, plans that include more teachers, extra funding and capped class sizes. In addition, the Education Policy Institute, has published a comprehensive assessment of the parties’ education plans, pointing among other things to concerns about where the extra money might come from, how difficult it might be to meet social mobility aspirations, and some disappointment about visions for post-18.
More immediately there’ve been some important education developments to catch up on this week. These include the latest global PISA assessment results, an important report from the Sutton Trust and FFT Education Datalab on the impact of the GCSE reforms on the attainment gap, and calls from both the CBI and a former HE Minister for reforms to R/D funding. And, as staff parties swing into action, the Economist has reported that most employees would rather have a Christmas bonus than a Christmas bash.
Let’s start with the release of the latest PISA test results from the OECD. Taken last year by a sample of 15 year olds across 79 countries, just over 5,000 from 170 schools in the case of the UK, and covering maths, science and reading, this programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) offers, in the words of education director Andreas Schleicher: ‘the world’s premier yardstick for comparing quality, equity, and efficiency in learning outcomes across countries and an influential force for education reform.”
So how have we done and what have we learnt? As the headline from the Independent put it: ‘UK climbs education rankings but teenagers unhappier than elsewhere.’ We’ve certainly moved up the international league chart compared to the last two tests in 2015 and 2012, particularly in maths, yet some of the progress within the UK is marginal, science scores have dropped, many of the commentaries refer to UK progress as ‘modest’ and, as the headline indicated, young people are less satisfied with their lives than young people across other OECD countries. It is therefore a hopeful but rather mixed bag for the UK and it’s worth looking at some of the coverage from the TES, FFT Education Datalab and NFER to name a few, for a more nuanced picture.
Finally, a brief shout-out for that report on the impact of the GCSE reforms on the attainment gap. It’s a carefully argued report with an important message about the effect of the reforms on disadvantaged pupils. As such it further underlines a continuing fault line in the English education system, election or no.