PISA in Practice - What We Can Learn from England's High Performance in Science and Problem-solving?

Juliet Sizmur, Bethan Burge

11 September 2015

This report is part of a series, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), which showcases some findings from PISA 2012 which teachers can use in the classroom.

This report focuses on England’s performance in PISA 2012. It explores the characteristics of those pupils who were high performers in the PISA science and problem-solving assessments, and identifies strategies for helping to develop the behaviours and attitudes associated with high performance in all pupils.

England’s performance in science and problem-solving was better than our performance in maths and reading. The average science and problem-solving performance of a 15 year old in England in 2012 was significantly better than that of an average.

The evidence from PISA shows that good attendance and a positive attitude towards school (key aspects of pupil engagement) are strong indicators of the likelihood of being a high performer. The OECD has also found that teacher practices have an important role to play in promoting engagement with school and learning. Teachers and school leaders may want to consider the strategies they can adopt to increase or maintain the engagement of all pupils. This report includes examples of engagement strategies that aim to maximise and enhance pupil engagement in their learning and provide the best possible opportunities for successful, active learning to take place. They provide useful suggestions as to what teachers and school leaders might do to engage learners and therefore maintain relatively high science and problem-solving performance.

Key Findings

  • England’s average performance in the PISA 2012 science and problem-solving assessments was significantly better than the international average. Only ten countries outperformed England in the PISA science assessment and only seven in problem-solving.
  • England has a greater proportion of high achievers compared with the international average, this means that over ten per cent of pupils in are able to answer some of the most demanding PISA science and problem-solving questions, which require them to perform complex tasks on unfamiliar topics.
  • Pupils who report that they are on time for lessons or do not skip whole classes or days perform better, on average, than their peers in science and problem-solving.
  • Pupils with more positive attitudes towards their school are more likely to be high performers in science and problem-solving in PISA 2012.
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