It’s a new year, and everyone is taking tests

Happy new year. As perfunctory as it always sounds, I mean it. I’ve never said that phrase with such weight before. I’m not necessarily suggesting that Terry Pratchett (may he rest in peace) was holding the threads of civilisation together, but I think the idea is less crazy than most of what we’ve collectively experienced in the last 12 months.

It’s customary to take stock at new year, whether to appraise your waistline, relationships or the terrifying sociopolitical trajectory of western society. Personally, I’ve always tried to avoid it. It’s not taking stock that I’ve ever had a problem with, it’s the urge to make superficial resolutions to ‘fix’ the ‘problems’ I didn’t want to succumb to. But in the last couple of years I’ve been less of a stick-in-the-mud – I enjoy testing my willpower and drive for personal improvement as much as anyone.

Filling in a answer sheet with a pencil

Source: Shutterstock

This year, the education sector is joining in with the self-appraisal game, on an international scale. Last month, the results of both the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the IEA’s Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) league tables were published. For the home nations, they show mixed results.

In England, attainment is good, and students enjoy and appreciate the importance of science – a trait not matched in the highest-attaining nations. But it’s a different picture for teachers where job satisfaction is low and recruitment difficulties are having an impact on student learning.

Student attainment in the other home nations is not as strong, particularly in Wales where reforms are underway to improve outcomes. Students in Ireland matched those in England for maths ability, but not in science.

But the real fun comes not in the results of these studies, but in our response to them. Both TIMSS and PISA are such complex and thorough investigations that the data can be spun in any number of directions. Any government of any country could use these results to justify pet reforms. There are few political buttons more effective than keeping up with the Joneses.

In England, Theresa May is keen for grammar schools to make a comeback. Though it will be difficult for her government to justify this on the back of these reports – PISA has been fairly consistent on reporting lower overall attainment for selective education systems. Difficult, but maybe not impossible.

EiC’s new website

At Education in Chemistry, we have had very little time for reflection this year, given our focus on some exciting new developments. In December we launched our brand new website – the culmination of a year of hard work by the whole team. We’re very proud of it, and we’re sure you’ll find it both enjoyable and useful for your teaching. Make sure you register for free access to all our articles and videos.

And finally, Karen Ogilvie, EiC’s editor since 2011 left the Royal Society of Chemistry in December. Karen has been the driving force behind so many developments for EiC over the past five years, and has been such a vital member of the chemistry education community during her tenure. We will miss her and wish her all the best for the future.