PISA Results Show We’ve Been On The Wrong Track For A Decade

December 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment

Getting around the UK is currently, to use the word muttered in every train carriage, bus stop and service station, a nightmare. At around the same time as not one, but two venerable BBC presenters were calling Culture Minister  Jeremy Hunt by the name many artists have been using for months, I was wondering if getting to yesterday's Whole Education Conference was really going to be worth the pain. Having been stranded on the M1 for 6 hrs last week, I wasn't looking forward to another frustrating day, this time on the East Coast Train Line. By the time our already significantly delayed train reached Peterborough, and we were all ejected, it looked like it might be easier to turn around and head home. Several dead trains were blocking the line to London apparently, and the conference was about to start, so I'd miss all the keynotes anyway…..

Thankfully, another train magically arrived, so I decided to press on. After 10 minutes it too ground to a halt, while everyone seemingly worked out a route which would by-pass the deceased locomotives. Twitter to the rescue. I'm a former sceptic, but yesterday it came into its own. By following the hash-tag 'wasf' I was able to get a pretty good idea of the content of the excellent keynote speeches by Anthony Seldon, Guy Claxton and Caroline Waters. Further, since organisers were also tweeting I thought it would help reassure them that I was going to be there in time for my own presentation.

Now here's where it gets weird. Since I joined the Twitterati last month  (@davidpriceobe since you ask), I've had a very slow trickle of people follow me, presumably having read my blog posts. Inside 3 hours yesterday morning, I had more people follow me than in 5 weeks of writing about education – so that's where I've been going wrong: the trick is just to tweet 'Stuck outside St Neots/Hitchin/Stevenage station' (yes we really did follow that route), never mind all this school nonsense.

Anyway, I made it to Holborn just in time to thank all those who'd kept me informed on the 5 hour journey, and talk about Learning Futures and why we need to focus our efforts on a new definition of student engagement. I  replayed Mick Waters view that, in trying to lever results through greater accountability, we had 'squeezed all the juice out of the lemon' and had to try something different. The irony is that if we made ourselves accountable to students for maintaining their interests, we'd raise their attainment anyway. There seemed to be a good deal of agreement in the hall that collaboration, motivation and engagement were key – and we have  the evidence, from OECD no less, to back it up.

The news today, that we have slipped still further down the PISA national tables in reading, maths and science, only underlines the urgent need to try something different. The recently published White Paper rightly raises the importance of  teaching in closing the attainment gap – with other leading countries, and between children from rich and poor backgrounds. But it offers no direction on how we make teaching more effective.

The gathering of so many 'progressive' educators yesterday could not have been more timely. There was so much consensus about what works (enquiry-based learning, a focus on engagement, a commitment to more human, democratic schools, knocking down the exterior walls of schools and creating learning commons) that one delegate suggested we were all preaching to the converted. Maybe so, but collectively we represented thousands of successful schools, and it was affirming to see what we had in common. As Anthony Seldon observed, we face a 'raft of challenges' but an 'ocean-liner of opportunities', in the new political landscape and we owe it to ourselves to go the extra mile (or in my case the extra trains) to tell policy makers what really great learning (and teaching) looks like.

David Price

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