Findings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) are "incredibly underused" by the experts who write and assess education policy, a leading academic has said.
The Pisa assessments have previously been accused of adding to the huge pressures faced by teachers and pupils and are said to be widely misinterpreted.
And England’s continued participation in the rankings could become "ever harder to justify" unless data gathered in Pisa’s background questionnaire is used to inform education research, policy and practice, Professor John Jerrim said.
The UCL Institute of Education academic writes in a blog post, published today, that the strongest reason to back England’s participation in Pisa is the richness of data that the international assessment provides.
He writes: “The unique, rich data that Pisa provides still, in my view, offers enough potential value to justify the resources spent.
How useful is the Pisa education research?
“Yet there is also an important caveat upon this response: more needs to be done to realise Pisa's true potential.
“Unfortunately, not enough work has exploited this data. Indeed, in general, international assessment data such as Pisa is, in this country, incredibly underused.”
And he warns: “If this data continues to be underused, then I believe England’s continued participation in Pisa will become ever harder to justify.”
Speaking to Tes, he called on academics and researchers to engage in more research on the Pisa data as it could provide more insight than what is published on results days.
And he added: “This goes to the Department for Education as well. They could commission more research or they could do more research themselves [on the data] and publish it, but actually very little gets done,” he said.
In his blog post, he explains that England has a unique opportunity to use Pisa data. As Pisa has been linked to the National Pupil Database, Year 11 pupils have two sets of scores in maths and English taken six months apart – Pisa in November/December and GCSEs in May/June.
This provides a window for investigation into the factors that are associated with progress in Year 11, Professor Jerrim explained.
“For example, things like if students are more motivated, or if parents pay for private tuition through Year 11. How much benefit do students get from that? It would be interesting for teachers of Year 11,” he said.
Professor Jerrim has carried out some of his own research based on Pisa data, with a paper published last year that showed “little evidence” that inquiry-based instruction in science led to better student performance.
In his blog post, Professor Jerrim analyses the reasons why England should still participate in Pisa, asking whether it gets enough out of its financial commitment and the pressure Pisa puts on schools.
While he admits that the excitement for the international rankings “has gone a bit stale”, he argues that cross-national comparisons can still be useful to compare education systems across the UK, and that Pisa offers the chance to benchmark England’s position on issues other than educational achievement, such as social media use.
Ultimately, he says, continued participation will be a political decision.
He writes: “Every OECD country currently takes part – is England really going to be the one country that decides to pull out?”
“It would take an incredibly brave secretary of state to make such a decision and [they] would become a very easy target for opposition parties to criticise.”
The Department for Education was unable to comment due to election purdah rules.