Pisa ranks Wales' education the worst in the UK

Although the scores for Wales are similar to those in 2010, other countries have performed better

Wales has fallen behind the rest of the UK significantly in reading, maths and science for the third time, an international study has shown.

The tests in science, maths, and reading were taken by 500,000 15-year-olds in 68 countries.

In Wales, there were lower results on average in the three subjects than in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Scotland leads the way in the UK in maths and reading, while England is ahead in science.

  • In maths, Wales fell three places to 43rd of the 65 countries
  • In reading, the nation is now ranked at 41 down from 38
  • The biggest fall came in science where Wales dropped six places to joint 36th

What are the Pisa tests?

  • International tests in maths, reading and science
  • Tests are taken by 500,000 15 year old pupils in 65 countries and local administrations
  • They are run every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • In the UK, more than 12,000 pupils took the tests in 2012
  • Asian countries and cities, such as Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea took the top places in the 2009 tests

The figures, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), show that for maths, 15-year-olds in Wales scored 468 points on average, compared with 498 in Scotland, 495 in England and 487 in Northern Ireland.

Why is Wales failing?

Click here for analysis

In reading, Wales scored 480, but Scotland scored 506 points on average, England scored 500 and Northern Ireland 498.

In science, Wales scored 491, compared with England's average score of 516, Scotland's 513, and 507 in Northern Ireland.

The OECD report concluded, for each of the three subjects, "performance in Wales was lower than the rest of the United Kingdom".

It is the third time Pisa has conducted such tests.

Since 2007, Wales has slipped down the Pisa rankings. As more countries have joined, it has slumped from 22nd in science to joint 36th, dropped 10 places in maths and fallen from 29th in reading to 41st.

'Stark' results

Speaking about this year's results, Education Minister Huw Lewis said the results were disappointing and showed Wales had a long way to go.

But he insisted the news reinforced the Welsh government's case for the ambitious reforms it has already developed.

Analysis by BBC Wales political reporter Adrian Browne

The build-up to the release of this set of Pisa rankings has felt a bit like waiting for examination results, when you know you've answered the questions incorrectly.

You spend months softening up relatives, warning them a star pupil is not about to emerge anytime soon.

And so the Welsh government has been telling anyone who will listen not to expect good news from Pisa.

We've started the groundwork, it says, but it is too early for that to come out in the tests.

Not a great message, as Wales slips further behind both the rest of the world and elsewhere in the UK in the these tests.

Welsh ministers will have their work cut out convincing people their aim of putting Wales amongst the top 20 Pisa nations in the next round of tests in 2015 is realistic.

They'll have to strike a balance between making reassuring noises, that things are set to improve, and not sounding complacent.

Opposition parties can legitimately point out that Labour, in one form or another, has been in charge of education in Wales for sixteen years.

With ministers dealing with difficult changes in the NHS, they must now be ready for another battle, on the state of our children's education, right up to the 2016 assembly election.

"Everybody working in and around the Welsh education sector needs to take a long hard look in the mirror this week," he said.

"The Pisa results are stark and the message is very clear, we must improve educational attainment and standards right across the board."

Mr Lewis said new reading and numeracy tests, secondary school banding, extra funding for new schools would take time to have a "significant impact" in Wales.

"There are no quick fixes," he said.

"I expect to see the impact of our reforms reflected in the next set of results. They're ambitious and I believe they will have a lasting, sustainable and positive effect on education in Wales."

Welsh Secretary David Jones urged Welsh ministers to "address these serious educational deficiencies and give the young aspirational people of Wales the skills they need to succeed".

Angela Burns, Conservative shadow education minister in the assembly, said: "These truly appalling figures show Wales' educational performance has at best stagnated, and at worst declined, and that in educational terms, Labour ministers have wasted the past three years."

Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Kirsty Williams tweeted: "Really sad and angry that 14 years of Welsh Labour Education Policy has led us to these #PISA results."

Plaid Cymru's education spokesman Simon Thomas said the results were not good enough.

"Wales cannot progress unless we get the basics right and that means meeting the challenge of improved numeracy, literacy and skills for all," he said.

All the UK nations were beaten in all three subject areas by the Republic of Ireland, and by Finland, a country which many education experts in Wales have sought to learn from.

'Wake-up call'

Meanwhile the business group CBI Wales said the results gave cause for concern.

Emma Watkins, CBI Wales director, said: "It's not acceptable for Wales to have slipped so far behind, and this should be a wake-up call to those who care about the future of the Welsh education system."

But Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, said Pisa was not the be all and end all.

"Pisa is not and must not be seen as the final word on education in Wales," he said.

"It is critical the Welsh government puts the Pisa 2012 study into proportion, uses it to guide and not drive education policy and takes forward its work in a way that reflects the genuine progress and achievements of the education system."

Wales' Pisa results 2007 (out of 59 countries) Wales' Pisa results 2010 (out of 67 countries)


Maths: 33rd

Maths: 40th

Reading: 29th (out of 58 countries - not USA )

Reading 38th

Science: 22nd

Science: 30th

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