12 February 2014

A key finding of the influential PISA tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) by the OECD — that countries do better when their schools have high levels of both autonomy and accountability — has been cast into doubt by new research from Cambridge Assessment.

Using data from PISA 2009, the researchers discovered that it did not support the OECD’s claim that “within countries where schools are held to account for their results through posting achievement data publicly, schools that enjoy greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to do better than those with less autonomy”.

Researcher Dr Tom Benton found that, when schools were divided into the two categories of independent and state, OECD’s findings are rendered statistically insignificant.

Therefore, he recommended that international data should be “independently scrutinised before being used to promote particular educational policies”.

Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said that this important research has questioned the “increasingly politicised comments from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development”.

She hopes that it will lead to the OECD recognising the “complexity of issues which underpin educational performance in different member states” and to politicians being wary of using PISA data to back up their policies.