Anticipated Decline: UK Pisa Education Study Scores Expected to Diminish


The UK is bracing for a probable dip in its standings in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings, which evaluate the educational achievements of 15-year-olds worldwide. Anticipated to be released this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the results are expected to reflect the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning.

Experts anticipate a decline in England’s math scores, which notably improved during the last assessment. Results in English proficiency are also expected to take a hit, although potentially to a lesser extent than math scores.

Pisa, an assessment initiated in 2000 and conducted every three years, compares standardized test scores in reading, math, and science across nearly 80 countries. Governments closely analyze these rankings, seeking evidence of their education policies’ efficacy relative to other nations.

This year’s results are poised to stand out due to the unparalleled disruption caused by the pandemic on global education systems. Expectations of declining performance loom over many countries, compounded by ongoing concerns about school absences in the UK and elsewhere.

In past assessments, the UK showcased positive strides in the Pisa rankings, yet it remained outside the top 10, trailing high-achieving countries like China, Singapore, and Estonia, which notably excelled in Europe during the 2018 survey. While Wales saw improvements in 2018, Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced more mixed outcomes.

The 2018 survey delved into students’ well-being, revealing that British schoolchildren exhibited higher levels of unhappiness and a diminished sense of life’s meaning compared to peers in many other countries. Britain ranked 69th out of 72 countries in terms of students’ life satisfaction.

John Jerrim, a professor specializing in education and social statistics at UCL Institute of Education, predicted a regression in England’s math scores after a notable surge in 2018. English proficiency scores might suffer less, given data suggesting that English learning was less affected by the pandemic.

“England witnessed stability from 2006 to 2015, followed by a substantial rise in math scores. The trajectory in reading was somewhat consistent, while science remained stagnant for years before a slight decline last time,” Jerrim explained. “Overall, we anticipate a downward shift in England’s scores this year, in line with global trends due to the COVID factor. The extent of the decline, however, remains uncertain.”