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Institute of Education Blog


Expert opinion from academics at the UCL Institute of Education


Has a GCSE grade C/4 lost its value? Actually, quite a bit

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 March 2021

John Jerrim.

With exams cancelled again in 2021, concerns have resurfaced over potential rampant “grade inflation”. Many saw this as a perennial problem throughout the nineties and noughties as GCSE and A-Level pass-marks went up year-upon-year. When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, it was something they vowed to end.

Indeed, some argued it was this obsession, over avoiding grade inflation and maintaining standards, that led to the disaster we saw with the awarding of examination grades last summer.

But how have GCSE standards really changed over time? This blog takes a look. (more…)

Five things to remember when the PISA 2018 results are released

Blog Editor, IOE Digital2 December 2019

John Jerrim.

The results from PISA 2018 are to be released tomorrow. And, as with every PISA release, there will be the usual media circus.

There will, of course, be all the obvious things to look out for – have PISA scores for England in reading/science/maths gone up or down, are any countries doing surprisingly well/badly etc.

But, as always with PISA, the headline results are not always as straightforward to interpret as on initial inspection.

The purpose of this blogpost is therefore to flag some important things to remember when the results are released.


Should England continue participating in PISA?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital26 November 2019

John Jerrim.

PISA has now been running since 2000, with England participating in every cycle. Yet involvement does not come cheap. It costs more than £2m every three years for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to take part. Not to mention the burden it places upon nearly 500 schools.

It therefore seems important that we consider whether all this time and effort is worthwhile. Is England really getting enough out of its continued participation in the PISA study?

This blogpost focuses on four key reasons why England has participated in the PISA study, and the value that they bring.


Is Canada really an education ‘superpower’? The evidence is not as clear-cut as you might think

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 November 2019

John Jerrim.

When the PISA results are released every three years it is now little surprise when a set of east Asian nations (e.g. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea) dominate the top spots in the rankings.

These nations typically substantially outperform most English-speaking western nations, with one important exception – Canada.

This is illustrated by the table below, which shows the top 20 countries in terms of average scores in reading, science and mathematics.


Should we eat more fish or more ice-cream to boost PISA scores?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 November 2019

John Jerrim.

If anyone has ever read one of the international PISA reports or seen Andreas Schleicher present they will know that the OECD is rather fond of cross-national scatterplots. These illustrate the relationship between two variables measured at the country level.

Take, for instance, the chart below. This has been taken from one of Mr Schleicher’s blogposts, and illustrates the relationship between a country’s test scores and its rate of economic growth. It has been interpreted by the OECD as showing “that the quality of schooling in a country is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run”.

Source: Research by Hanushek and Woessmann, via the OECD Education and Skills Today blog

Sounds convincing, right?

The trouble is, correlation does not equal causation. And, despite the OECD’s obsession with such cross-country relationships, they can often deceive.


Is PISA ‘fundamentally flawed’ because of the scaling methodology used?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 November 2019

John Jerrim.

Every time PISA results are released, concerns are raised about the methodology that underpins the work.

One area that has come in for repeated criticism is how the test scores of students are actually produced, as in this article, which asked whether PISA was “fundamentally flawed”.

Such concerns were exacerbated by a seminal paper by Svend Kreiner and Karl Bang Christensen who claimed that their results indicated that using PISA to compare countries was “meaningless”.


How do GCSE grades relate to PISA scores?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 October 2019

John Jerrim.

When the reform to GCSEs was initially announced, under the watch of Michael Gove in 2014, the intention was to link performance on the new GCSE exams to the PISA test.

Now, as far as I am aware, this link between PISA and national examination standards has not been established. Instead we have the comparable outcomes policy [PDF] and the national reference test to ensure standards are comparable over time.

Yet the interesting question remains – how do the ‘currency’ of GCSE grades and PISA test scores translate?


Are all types of reading equal, or are some more equal than others?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 October 2019

John Jerrim.

It is widely considered important that children read regularly. A wide range of previous research has linked reading during childhood to improved language skills and higher levels of academic achievement more generally.

But does it matter what children choose to read? Does flicking through a magazine or reading a newspaper have the same benefits for young people as becoming engrossed in a novel? A lot less evidence currently exists on this.

In a research paper published earlier this year, my co-author Gemma Moss and I decided to explore this topic in detail.


How do headteachers in England use test data, and does this differ from other countries?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 October 2019

John Jerrim.

In England we are fortunate to have a lot of data available about school pupils and how they are achieving academically at school.

Organisations such as FFT aim to make this data available and easily digestible to schools through services such as Aspire so that it can be used to inform the decisions of teachers and school leaders.

But how does the way schools in England make use of data compare to schools in other countries?


If London were a country, how would it do in PISA?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 October 2019

John Jerrim.

Since 2009, parts of China have been participated in the OECD’s triennial PISA testing.

In 2009 and 2012, Shanghai topped the international rankings and by quite some distance, with 15-year-olds in this Chinese city estimated to be up to two and a half years ahead of their counterparts in England.

Yet China’s participation in PISA also led to controversy. (more…)