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Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills

First published:
3 December 2013
Last updated:

This was published under the 2011 to 2016 administration of the Welsh Government

During November 2012 3305 learners from 137 schools in Wales took part in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) assessments.  

PISA is a survey of educational achievement run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  It assesses the knowledge and skills of learners aged fifteen on their competence to address real life challenges involving reading, mathematics and science. This aim differentiates PISA from other pupil assessments which measure their mastery of curriculum subjects.

PISA assessments are carried out on a three year cycle. Wales participated for the first time in 2006.

In addition to the assessment, learners complete questionnaires which ask questions on areas such as social background and study habits. Head teachers of participating schools also complete a questionnaire regarding issues such as school size, resources and organisation.

The national report setting out PISA outcomes for Wales is published on the website of the national programme manager for PISA in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER):

The international report which analyses PISA performance across the 65 participating countries, including the UK, can be accessed at: Most of the references in the international report are made on a UK basis.

Each PISA survey tests reading, mathematical and scientific literacy but majors on one key area each cycle. Mathematics was the major domain in PISA 2012 with reading and science as minor domains.

The tables below summarise Wales results 2012 PISA in comparison to our 2009 and 2006 results.


Mean Score 

2006: 484

2009: 472

2012: 468

Change from 09: -4



Mean Score

2006: 481

2009: 476

2012: 480

Change from 09: 4



Mean Score

2006: 505

2009: 496

2012: 491

Change from 09: -5 

Our previous PISA results were not good enough. The 2012 results confirm my view and that of my predecessor that standards in Wales are not high enough and must improve.

In all domains, Wales’ mean score was significantly lower than the OECD average and that of our UK counterparts. Compared to 2009 our performance in mathematics and science has declined.  The decline in science from 2009 means our score is now below the OECD mean. Our performance in reading has improved since 2009 and is on a par with the level achieved in 2006. 

Within the major domain of mathematics, PISA assessed four mathematical content areas: quantity; uncertainty and data; change and relationships; and space and shape.  It also assessed three mathematical processes: formulating situations mathematically; employing mathematical concepts and interpreting applying and evaluating mathematical outcomes. 

Approximately equal proportions of items from each of the four content domains are included in the mathematics assessment.  This allows us to undertake a more detailed analysis of the performance of pupils in Wales and to look at those content areas and processes where pupils are relatively strong or relatively weak.  There was considerable variation in our performance across the four content areas.  Compared to the overall score for mathematics pupils performed significantly better in uncertainty and data, however pupils were weakest on space and shape.  In the three process areas pupils are relatively strong on interpret, apply and evaluate, but less strong on questions requiring them to formulate situations mathematically in order to solve a problem.  We need to address those aspects where our learners performed weakest.

The results of the learner questionnaire indicate that learners believe they are generally doing well, this may suggest that our pupils are not being provided with sufficient stretch or challenge. Learners must be supported and challenged to maximise their potential. Learners should be given accurate feedback on how they are performing and what they need to do to make progress.

The results present no surprise. Welsh Government is on record as saying it would be unrealistic to expect significant improvements in the 2012 PISA results. Systemic change takes time if it is to have a lasting impact.  Experience tells us that quick fixes are seldom sustainable.

There are systemic weaknesses in the education system and in response we are pursuing a relentless drive to raise standards and achieve a positive change in performance in the school sector.

The policies we have developed are not quick wins; they are designed to bring about education reform and long-term, sustained improvement. We are aspiring for excellence in every aspect of the education system and working with schools, local authorities and consortia to achieve high performance.  This will not happen overnight.  

We do not underestimate the gravity of these results. We are working tirelessly to raise standards. We know how important it is to deliver a high quality, efficient education system which provides learners with the skills, confidence and knowledge to address those real life challenges regardless of their background. We will hold steady to the course we have set and keep faith with our reforms.