The TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) 2019 results have been published with the findings showing a positive outcome for pupils in England taking mathematics, but less positive performance for students in science. East Asian countries including Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong continue to perform strongly in both mathematics and science.
The results show that year 5 pupils in England scored 556 in mathematics, an increase of 10 points from 2015 and a rise from tenth to eighth position among participating countries. Year 9 pupils in England scored 515 on average, ranking 13th overall in mathematics.
In science, the performance of year 5 pupils in England was similar to 2015, with a score of 537. This ranked England 12th overall. At secondary level there was a drop in science performance however, from 537 in 2015 to 517 in 2019. England is now fourteenth overall, falling from eighth position since 2015.
Beyond international comparisons, the TIMSS report contains a number of interesting findings. Across all countries, the analysis of results found a strong link between good behaviour and high achievement. Fewer school discipline problems and a safer, more orderly school environment resulted in better outcomes for students.
Around half of the countries in the study showed gender equity in mathematics and science. In England, girls and boys scored similarly at year 5 in science, with girls slightly outperforming boys in the year 9 test. In mathematics, boys outperformed girls by a small margin in both year groups.
In secondary science, the report found that year 9 students in 2019 had similar knowledge to 2015, but performed worse in the key areas of “applying” and “reasoning”. In order for pupils to compete with their counterparts in high performing countries there is a need to ensure that our science lessons not only develop key foundation knowledge, but also develop the application and reasoning skills identified in the higher benchmarks.
The TIMSS report also found a sizeable gap between teachers’ professional development needs and available opportunities for training. For English secondary school science teachers, the most pressing professional development need was training that improved pupils’ critical thinking and problem solving skills, with training on how to integrate technology into science instruction also a priority. Science pedagogy/instruction and science assessment were also considered to be important professional development needs, with science content and curriculum content being the areas of least need.
While it’s tempting to focus on the international rankings, here at STEM Learning we must not forget the importance of collaboration and sharing best practice. We have established professional communities through national, local, and online CPD. These networks have seen teachers and schools improve science education across the UK.
We continue to provide high quality CPD that enables teachers to develop children’s reasoning and thinking skills through working scientifically. Schools engaging with our CPD see significantly greater improvements in student science attainment than those not engaging, and while foundational subject knowledge is needed to develop key conceptual understanding in biology, chemistry and physics, it is the practical application of this knowledge that will enable pupils to achieve at a world class level.