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English schools set to take part in OECD early years PISA study

England has joined an OECD pilot, testing 300 five-year-olds’ cognitive skills
The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that 20 schools and childcare settings in England are set to take part in tablet-based tests on five-year-olds as part of a pilot scheme for an OECD study.
The Department says that the study aims to increase understanding of the benefits of early education, both for individual children and society as a whole.
England is joining the OECD’s International Early Learning and Child Wellbeing Study (IELS), which will see 300 children tested for their early language, literacy and numeracy skills. The children will also be tested for social behaviour, empathy, memory and self-regulation.
Parents and staff will also be asked to complete questionnaires as part of the test, to give contextual information such as family characteristics, home environment and individual circumstances.
Iram Siraj, professor of early childhood education at UCL Institute of Education and member of the OECD’s technical advisory group for the IELS, said that the study would take a “holistic” approach. He said: “It will be carried out using enjoyable, age-appropriate assessments with stories and games by professionals who are used to working sensitively with this age-group.”
The DfE has appointed the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to carry out the tests. The idea was first proposed at the start of the year, but several nations have declined to take part in the trials, including Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium. The only other nation now said to be taking part is the US.
Robert Goodwill, minister for children and families, said: “We already know that a child who attends any pre-school can increase their GCSE attainment by as much as seven grades, so now we want to sharpen our understanding of how it can have the most impact. This study will build on the evidence available, driving our work tackling low social mobility and helping to spread opportunities for all children.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said that experience has taught the sector to be “wary” of early assessments focused on data gathering, rather than improving learning outcomes. He said: “We know the enormous pressures that children today face as a result of a growing obsession with gathering data, testing and league tables. Any attempt to place such pressure on children aged just five-years-old should, and most likely will, be roundly rejected by the education sector.”