Belfast Telegraph

PISA highlights need for continued reform – O’Dowd

Stormont Executive press release - Department of Education

Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has spoken of the need to press on with reform in our education system.

The Minister was speaking on the day an international report showed that local 15 year olds were performing at the international average in reading and science, but below the average in mathematics.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report is published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and assesses students against their counterparts across the world.

Commenting on the results, Mr O’Dowd said: “Today’s results are a useful indicator of the state of our education system. The results show that the standards in maths, reading and science among our 15 year olds have remained stable. They also show, however, that the standards in many other countries are improving.

“The report is a welcome addition to the evidence we already possess about the performance of our education system, including the Chief Inspector’s report and our key stage results.

“The report finds many positives. Only 17 countries are outperforming the north in science for example. Furthermore, the attitudinal results from the survey are very encouraging. In maths, students show a greater motivation to learn and record a higher level of support from their teachers than the OECD average. In general, pupils are very positive about the teachers in their school with 87% saying they get on well with the majority of teachers.

“However the report also confirms what we already knew – that our education system at post-primary level has much room for improvement. Indeed, I have been on record as saying that we need to address the challenges in post-primary education and I believe we can and must make the necessary improvements to ensure all children can fulfil their potential.

“The PISA report shows that too many 15 year olds are performing at the lowest levels in these key subject areas. It also delivers a clear challenge to those who claim our education system delivers academic excellence. In maths, for example, only 10.3% of our 15 year olds are performing at the highest level. This lags behind the OECD average and well below the attainment level in some countries. 

“The findings are not a surprise. Indeed, they reflect the findings of last year’s Chief Inspector’s report, which said that standards in post-primary schools, and in maths in particular, need to rise.

"The report further illustrates the impact that socio-economic division in our post-primary schools has on educational outcomes. The primary sector, which performs at the top end of international comparisons, does not divide children based on social background. The international evidence already showed that social division is bad for the educational outcomes of all children and today’s figures bear this out.”

The Minister also signalled that the publication of a major OECD report into the north’s education system, due later this month, would add to the evidence base for the work to drive standards.

In conclusion the Minister said: “The work that has been undertaken since the publication of the last PISA report in 2010 is long-term and strategic in nature and will, I believe, lead to improved standards. I want to understand what the report is telling us not just about our own education system, but also about education systems across these islands and beyond, in order to drive forward the necessary improvements.

“This report should not, and will not, be looked at in isolation. It will be used with other pieces of evidence to gain a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our system.

“If there are lessons to be learnt I am keen to learn them.”

Notes to editors:

1. In the north of Ireland the PISA survey was carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and NFER has produced a report to coincide with release of the international data and report. The PISA 2012 report for the north of Ireland can be found at: 

2. The Department of Education Research Briefing on PISA can be found at:

3. The OECD International Reports can be found at

4. The report for the north of Ireland can be accessed at 

5. The Department of Education’s ‘Education Works’ campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’. The campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances. Visit for more information.

Watch the TV ad on the Department’s YouTube channel:

6. View photos from the Department of Education in our collection at

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