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PISA 2018 results: The key findings for UK schools

PISA 2018 results: The key findings for UK schools

5 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed

By now, you’ve probably heard about the PISA report that was released this morning. It is full of very interesting findings, and many good news stories for British schools. For example, the UK is one of only 14 countries to see a statistically significant improvement in a subject (Maths); it is also above average in reading performance and equity.

Some of the findings aren’t that optimistic though: life satisfaction amongst UK teenagers is a whopping 14 points behind the OECD average, with a 13-point decrease since 2015.

If you want to find out more about all the PISA 2018 data, you can read the 64-page document. Many educators are also sharing the most important headlines and great insights into what those results could mean – both positive and negative.

Three headlines in particular caught our eye at InnerDrive:

  • British students are amongst those with the highest level of growth mindset, 9th overall, 12 places ahead of the OECD average;
  • The UK has one of the lowest gender gaps in reading, with boys having made significant improvement;
  • Less optimistically though, British girls have one of the highest fear of failure in the world – in 5th place.

Here’s why these matter, and what they mean in classrooms…

A better mindset

Click here to get a closer look at the growth mindset findings in the PISA 2018 review

Developing a growth mindset in schools is important for many reasons, including:

  • Students with a growth mindset persist for longer and seek out better feedback.
  • Growth mindset is linked with grit, pro-social behaviours, better self-regulation and learning orientation.
  • Developing a growth mindset can im prove self-esteem, help with stress and promote better mental health – an issue that many schools are dealing with.
  • Many studies have even found that a growth mindset can help students achieve better grades.

Many strategies have helped create this in schools. If you’re looking to help your students develop a growth mindset, you have many great tools at your disposal.

Purposeful Praise is a powerful one: rather than congratulating students on fixed attributes (“You’re so smart”, etc.), praise effort and persistence (“You tried your best and it paid off”, “good job trying to put that back”…). For this, we like using the 3 Ss: use praise Selectively, Sparingly and Specifically.

You can also help with high expectations accompanied by lots of support. The Pygmalion Effect, as it’s called, shows that any students regardless of previous ability will benefits from them.

Developing your students’ mindset can also take the form of an intervention. It has been found that even a single one had a positive impact. This is why we are so keen on our Growth Mindset student workshops – they really can make a difference.

A narrower gender gap

It’s no wonder that reading ability is such an important indicator of students achievement – reading has plenty of benefits such as improved learning outcomes, stronger brain functionalities and de-stressing powers.

That’s why the UK level being both higher than average and more equitable is such good news. Reading is paramount for all students, regardless of gender. So, while girls still have an advantage over boys, it shows that all the conversations that educators have been having about boys’ underachievement are helping to make significant improvements.

While it’s often subconscious, gender biases can have a real impact on students. Research has found that, on average, teachers give boys fewer positive comments and more negative ones than girls. Boys are also more likely to be labelled as the “classroom clown”, damaging both their self-esteem and the support they can receive at school.

Girls also suffer from gender stereotypes at school, although differently so. For example, success in STEM subjects is still very much associated with boys, often stopping girls from even attempting to study those subjects. They also usually receive different types of support and praise from their parents.

This added pressure on girls might be the cause of the last point we wanted to focus on from the PISA 2018 findings…

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A high fear of failure in girls

Click here to get a closer look at the finings about fear of failure in the PISA 2018 review

British girls have the 5th highest fear of failure in OECD countries, far above the average and their UK male counterparts.

Thankfully, there are strategies that can be used by educators, parents and the students themselves to lower that level. In fact, students are not usually afraid of the failure itself but rather of the negative consequences it could have. Making them aware of all the ways that failure can be helpful is a great place to start. Indeed, it can:

  • Increase their motivation to succeed
  • Give them insight into what they need to change or improve on
  • Develop their compassion and empathy
  • Increase their resilience and determination
  • Prompt them to ask for help
  • Make the final results much more rewarding

What you can do to help is to make sure they’re in a psychologically safe environment with a “no shame” policy, a great support network they can talk to and where they can get great feedback.

Also, let them know that stress can actually be beneficial with the right amount: too much of it and it’s debilitating, too little and students get disengaged and complacent. Knowing how to deal with stress is particularly important during exams, so students can perform at their best even under pressure. Just like growth mindset, this can be taught through interventions such as stress management student workshops.

Final thoughts

We strongly recommend you take some time to flick through the PISA 2018 findings and look out for the great articles that are going to come out about it in the next few days. Everything in there is either encouraging or helpful when designing new classroom strategies – and we can’t wait to see how this report changes the education landscape in the coming years.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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