Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Comparing notes

International comparisons usually bring negative headlines to the UK so it was gratifying that the recent international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) brought excellent news about English pupils' achievement in maths (they outperformed all other European countries in the survey).

Indeed, the UK education systems are often seen much more favourably from outside the country than within.

ASCL is one of the partners in a cross-European action research project on correlating student achievement with leadership styles. Under the acronym LISA, the project is at the data collection stage, and we hope to be able to share outcomes by the middle of 2009.

Working with colleagues from Norway, Holland, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Hungary, it has been striking just how much autonomy school leaders in England have in comparison with many other countries.

It also appears that there is a direct correlation across Europe between degrees of autonomy for schools and the use of accountability measures such as inspection and publication of examination data. Colleagues can read more on www.lisa-project.eu

In discussion with European colleagues, the topic of PISA tests often comes up. These have a relatively low profile in the UK, partly perhaps because we are not short of other home-grown tests and numerical indicators of performance.

For many European countries, PISA is a critically important regular measure of how well the education system is doing, and root and branch system reform is often triggered by countries appearing to slip down the PISA league table.

The PISA system is close to one which ASCL have been arguing for in England for some time: sampling tests used in a representative cross section of schools to evaluate system improvement, but without creating some of the perverse incentives which our high-stakes testing regime triggers. You can find out more on www.pisa.oecd.org

ASCL would strongly encourage schools that are invited to take part in PISA to do so, since we will only have an accurate measure of how our country compares if there is a representative sample of schools included in the results.

Finally, a number of our international partners will be at ASCL conference in March 2009, and there will be a session on the LISA project, so do come along if you would like to learn more.

Ian Bauckham is chair of ASCL's International Committee and head of Bennett Memorial School in Kent.

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