Ministers have decided that England should opt out of a new test into creative thinking being added to the Pisa international education rankings, Tes can reveal.
Critics have condemned the decision as "very unhelpful" and an "emotional-political gut reaction".
England already has a mixed record on participation in the extra tests added to every edition of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), despite ministers' enthusiasm for the rankings the study produces.
The optional creative thinking test is being added to the Pisa assessment for 2021. But last night the Department for Education told Tes that England would not take part.
Every three years, Pisa tests 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading – but adds other tests, such as creative thinking, that countries can decide whether to opt in to.
Professor Bill Lucas, the English academic who co-chairs the strategic advisory group for the Pisa 2021 creative thinking tests, told Tes that the DfE let the Pisa office know that it had decided to opt out just before the election period. He argues that the government has made a mistake.
“If you opt into creative thinking, there is the thinking you are perhaps giving a signal that you don’t value standards in English, maths and science as much, because you are somehow potentially aligning yourself with a view of the purpose of education that is beyond the basics of the core subjects,” he said.
“This has become an entirely false binary position. It’s very unhelpful. There is a growing amount of research showing that if you embed creativity rigorously, standards in other subjects also go up.
"It saddens me to see the emotional-political gut reaction that got us to this temporary ‘we are not going to opt in’ moment.”
Professor Lucas is keen to stress that there is still time for a rethink. “The government don’t yet fully know what they’d be opting in to because the preparatory work on the test has not yet been completed," he said.
"In conversation with my colleagues at Pisa, it’s clear that well into next year, it will be possible for governments to opt in to the Pisa 2021 creative thinking test.
“For reasons you’d have to establish with the Department for Education, before the election, it felt helpful to get this off the minister for schools’ desk so that it could be ‘kicked into the long grass’ until new ministers are appointed on 13 December."
Wales has also decided to opt out, the BBC reported earlier this year. England chose not to be part of the optional test on global competence for Pisa 2018, the results of which will be published next month.
A total of 27 countries, including Scotland, participated in the global competence test, although Wales and Northern Ireland also decided not to.
And Michael Gove, a huge fan of Pisa, was initially reluctant to enter England for a problem solving test in 2012.
Professor Lucas, who is director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, believes many of the decisions around the new creativity test may be political “with a small ‘p’”.
“I am one of the co-authors of the Durham Commission on creativity in education," he said. "The sense we had from the Durham Commission was that rightly or wrongly – I believe wrongly – the DfE sees an opting in to creative thinking as somehow an agreement to an agenda about what school is about that isn’t their agenda.
“I am an optimist and I think that ultimately evidence and common sense will prevail. When the new government is elected, and it really does depend who is elected, the government will have to think about its new agenda."