Leadership approaches, support and ideas from Bristol Brunel Academy

PISA – So what?

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PISA – so what?

December saw the publication of the PISA tables comparing the performance of 15 year olds in over 60 countries/areas in maths, reading and science. The UK ranked in the 20s and is very close to the overall average. What can we learn? … a few things…(largely based on Michael Barber’s essay, Oceans of Innovation)
Why do Pacific Asian Nations fill the top 5 positions?…
  • They perform well in PISA designed tests – on average students in Singapore are 3 years ahead of UK students (further ahead of the US).
  • These nations have a strong cultural commitment not just to education, but also to the belief that effort will be rewarded. The focus on hard work over talent is one reason they lead the way. The UK and US are held back by the talent myth, a belief that “you are born clever, or not.”
  • High Floor, education needs to get everyone onto a platform of high minimum standards. “Some Pacific Asian societies have been more successful at providing a high floor under every student’s feet.” Impressively, weaker students as well as the more able do well in these Pacific Asian nations.
  • Education and teaching is highly regarded: “Education is the most important investment one can make to prepare for the future. It unlocks human potential, equips people with the knowledge to thrive and enables them to achieve their aspirations” Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, Singapore
  • There is a high level of uniformity in these nations; it is this that enables a high floor of performance and a strong acquisition of knowledge and application. It is this that supports high performance in PISA tests that reward both knowledge and application of knowledge. Students put in the hours.
  • The strong cultural bias toward education reinforces that all students are seen as…” responsible to his family, community and nation.” Builds high compliance and uniformity, as well as high development of knowledge and thought.
“The person who is schooled in the Singapore Education system…has a good sense of self-awareness, a sound moral compass, and the necessary skills and knowledge to take on challenges of the future.”  Ministry of Education, Singapore
However, if we look at where innovation and creativity exist in the world we look to America and London. Michael Barber points to the depth of diversity in these areas that enable skills of leadership, collaboration and entrepreneurial talent. Where Asian Pacific nations deliver in uniformity and equity (high floor) they struggle to deliver the diversity and opportunity to be innovative and to lead (no ceiling).  (short Barber video)
“Pacific Asian systems have much to learn from some Atlantic systems, especially perhaps Sweden, England and parts of the US. As Arne Duncan, US secretary of education explains, ‘the US is still ahead in experimentation … our decentralised system has its pros and cons, but one of the biggest pros is that it can generate great ideas.” (Michael Barber, Oceans of Innovation) 
For the UK the challenge is to create equity in the system (a higher floor) where all students achieve a minimum expected level of knowledge and application (like the Pacific Asian nations), so that the diversity that, in part, exists, encourages leadership and innovation  – at present a wide range of students lack core skills and knowledge to take advantage of the diversity and opportunities available in the Atlantic countries and cultures. There are also needs around valuing, recruiting and training quality teachers and shifting cultural attitudes toward education and learning.
And the Academy level this may indicate that
  • Building knowledge and application of knowledge is important.
  • Creating a work ethic in students – that confirms that anything is possible with effort.  Dispel the talent myth.
  • Continue our high expectations and go further to secure abnormal attitudes and behaviours based on our context.
  • Focus on equity; tracking, teaching and intervening to secure a high floor for students. (greater equity and uniformity) – an academy of outliers
  • To build on this high floor to secure the opportunities and approaches that remove the ceiling; supporting students and providing the opportunities to think, develop leadership and be innovative.
Will the Pacific create the diversity necessary to build on their high-floor, uniformity, strong knowledge and application base to take a lead in the world? (The Ministry of Education, Singapore website suggests that developing this diversity is planned) Or will the Atlantic nations remove the talent myth, generate a higher (equitable) floor of knowledge and application, re-value education – to enable the diversity, the opportunity and innovation that will take a lead in this century?
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” Albert Einstein
Dr Dan Nicholls
Principal – Bristol Brunel Academy

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