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Schools in England can take individual Pisa tests from 2014

Individual secondary schools in England will be able to take a version of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and benchmark themselves against the world’s highest ranked education systems, it was announced today.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) confirmed that versions of its assessments in reading, mathematics and science for 15-year-olds would be available from 2014.

The tests could cost more than £5,000 a school. But when TES first revealed the plan in June, heads’ leaders said that some secondaries would see that as a worthwhile investment because of their lack of faith in public exams.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD deputy director for education and skills, said: “This new OECD test will enable individual schools in England for the first time to see where they stand internationally.

“This will help teachers and school leaders understand where to focus their efforts to raise standards and learn from successful school systems in other countries.”

The tests will involve two hours of cognitive questions and a 30-minute questionnaire on students’ socio-economic backgrounds and attitudes to learning and their school. A minimum of 75 pupils will be tested at each school, although the total could vary.

Education minister, Elizabeth Truss, said it was up to secondary schools to decide whether they wanted to take part, but she described the OECD as a “highly respected, independent organisation”.

“We see this is an excellent opportunity for schools to compare themselves against the world’s best education systems – and potentially against other schools from around the world,” she said.

Essex County Council is already encouraging its secondaries to take the tests, saying they will “benefit from the ability to assess performance, share best practice and improve learning across the county”.

A pilot of the Pisa test for schools, which was run in 126 schools in the UK, the USand Canada, finished in March, and led to “very positive” feedback according to the OECD.

The results will be used to compile lengthy reports on each school, showing how they compare with schools in jurisdictions that are top of the Pisa rankings, such as Shanghai in China.

Schools will also be able to see how they measure up to schools with students from similar socio-economic backgrounds, in their own countries and overseas.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of headteachers’ union the NAHT, has said that: “Confidence in the design and marking of our own exams (in England) is fairly low at the moment. So being able to have what might be perceived as a less politicised set of tests might be quite useful.”

But some teaching unions are opposed because they believe schools in prosperous areas could use the tests to create rankings and as marketing tools, “undermining the efficacy” of Pisa.

The tests will use the same assessment framework as Pisa, which ranks countries’ education systems in international league tables.

But the OECD stresses that there will be no equivalent global league tables for schools. Test results will remain the property of the individual schools and the OECD has said that it will not publicly release information that would allow rankings to be compiled.

It says the information it gathers through the tests will allow it to conduct further analysis and offer evidence-based advice on school improvement, in the same way as it does for national education systems.

The Spanish government has started implementing plans for a limited pilot of the tests in four national languages, including Spanish, in 2013-14. Australia and Japan have also expressed an interest.

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