Pisa criticisms are unfair and unfounded

6th December 2013 at 00:00

I am writing in response to the article "Fresh Pisa claims shake trust in influential study" (15 November). The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has run the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests in the UK since 2006 and I am the national project manager for the 2012 surveys, the results of which have just been released. We are concerned about the emphasis that TES has placed on unpublished and currently not peer-reviewed research about Pisa, and would question some of the assertions made.

We would like to contest the criticism of headteachers. Our evidence suggests that school leaders in the UK take participation in Pisa very seriously - we have high response rates to the school questionnaire and we know that headteachers actively support the testing in their schools. In 2009, the most common reasons that school leaders gave for participating were the importance of international studies, interest in results and how Pisa contributed to policy. Clearly, any lack of accuracy in the responses would make this valuable information less useful.

A number of checks are made to ensure accuracy: the responses of the headteachers and students to questions about similar issues are compared in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland national reports and tell a similar story; and the consortium of organisations that runs Pisa carries out statistical checks on the data to ensure that the responses are valid.

The vast majority of questions in the school questionnaire are multiple-choice, so it does not seem surprising that a number of headteachers might answer sections of the questionnaire similarly. There will also be cultural attitudes to education and shared beliefs about what is important that will lead to different patterns of response in different countries.

We are very grateful for the support we have had from headteachers during Pisa 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Rebecca Wheater, Research manager, National Foundation for Educational Research, and UK national project manager for Pisa 2012.

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