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Education Committee

Inquiry into Successful Post - Primary Schools Serving Disadvantaged Communities

PISA 2009



1. This paper provides briefing for the Education Committee on the results of PISA 2009, ahead of the oral presentation that the Committee has requested take place in the coming weeks.

The PISA Survey

2. PISA is organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and is a survey of the educational achievement of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science. Pupils are assessed on their competence to address real life challenges involving reading, mathematics and science.

3. The survey takes place every three years and the most recent survey was carried out in 2009 (the first was in 2000, with further rounds in 2003 and 2006). In each round, there is a main focus on one subject area, with the other two as minor domains. In 2009, reading was the major area of focus, with maths and science as minor areas (reading was previously the main subject in PISA 2000. In 2003, the main subject was maths and in 2006, science).

4. A total of 65 countries participated in PISA 2009 (compared to 57 in 2006), of which 33 are OECD member countries. Strict quality standards are applied at all stages of the PISA survey to ensure equivalence in translation and adaptation of instruments, sampling procedures and survey administration in all participating countries.  

PISA in the north of Ireland

5. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was appointed to run the survey here (and in England and Wales, and also for Scotland, which participated separately). A total of 87 schools and 2,197 pupils from the north of Ireland participated.

Headline Results

6. The overall results show that the performance of our 15 year olds in reading and maths is not significantly different from the OECD average. Performance in science is significantly above the OECD average. However, our performance in all three areas lags behind that of the highest performing systems and we continue to have a significant body of underachievement . The attached graphs illustrate how our performance compares to that of other participating countries and economies in reading, maths and science.

7. The Department’s Research Briefing (RB3/2010, attached) provides a summary of the key findings in Reading, Maths and Science. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has also published a report on the achievement of 15 year olds in the north of Ireland in PISA 2009 and a copy is attached for Members’ information. Additionally, the Department for Education and Skills in the south has produced a helpful document that includes comparisons of performance on a north/south basis that members might also provide helpful.

Implications of the PISA Results

8. From a policy perspective, PISA provides an important indication (and one that is not possible purely through using internal measures such as Key Stage or GCSE outcomes) of the standards our pupils achieve in the core areas of Reading, Maths and Science compared with those of pupils in other countries. This measure is particularly important in a context where we are working to prepare young people to take their place in a global economy and where we are also working, including via the Executive sub-group on the Economy, to develop the north’s ability to compete economically in an international marketplace.

9. The Minister has repeatedly made clear that she wants to see the north becoming a world class system, looking to the performance of top performing countries and learning from best practice internationally to drive up standards and ensure we achieve good – and equitable - outcomes for all our young people.

10. PISA allows us to identify factors such as the gap in performance between our highest and lowest achievers and between girls and boys and to consider the characteristics of those countries which combine high performance with a high degree of equity in terms of pupil attainment. The information we gain from participation in the PISA Survey is therefore key in helping to inform policy development and implementation to ensure that every child can succeed to her or his full potential.

11. The Department is analysing the PISA findings in detail to identify any key trends and factors contributing to our PISA scores. We will also be looking at the top performing countries and economies to identify the lessons we can learn.

12. Officials will be happy to provide an update on any emerging findings during the presentation to Members and, in preparing for that briefing, would be interested to receive any specific queries Members may have on the results.

January 2011

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