OECD PISA V results show inequalities in education and importance of qualified teachers and education support personnel

published 29 September 2020 updated 30 September 2020

The OECD released its fifth volume of its Programme for International Assessment 2018 (PISA 2018) report today, 29 September. Although the data is from 2018, its analysis surveyed the new area of school policy.

The findings include:


  • a socio-economically disadvantaged 15 year old student is about three times more likely than an advantaged student to have repeated a grade at least once, even if both students scored the same in a PISA reading test (despite research finding that repeating grades had little effect on raising student achievement).
  • students in schools that group students by ability in their classes for all subjects scored eight points lower in reading than students in schools that did not group students in this way.


  • 27% of students were enrolled in schools where learning is hindered, according to principals, by a lack of teaching staff. The effect is similar for students in schools with a lack of support staff where the learning of 33% of students is undermined.
  • Where there was a smaller difference of resources and educational materials between advantaged and disadvantaged schools reading performance was higher. Where disadvantaged schools had a higher proportion of resources, their students’ reading performance benefitted even more.

Public schools

  • After accounting for students' and schools' socio-economic profile, students in public schools scored higher in reading than students in private schools.
  • “Although, as in all PISA reports, results vary considerably by country, data suggests that in high-performing systems of education more students attend pre-primary school for three years or more, more teachers are fully certified, and there are fewer resource gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, including digital resources. And for the first time PISA finds that reading performance in high performing systems is higher in public schools than in private schools when students’ backgrounds are taken into account. It also finds that that learning is better when there are fewer students per class.

The report also stresses the importance of students being able to engage in critical thinking. This skill is important in order to participate in and build democracy. However, in a disturbing result, according to the Preface, “the findings from this latest PISA round show that fewer than 1 in 10 students in OECD countries was able to distinguish between fact and opinion, based on implicit cues pertaining to the content or source of the information.”

In reacting to the PISA V report, Education International General Secretary David Edwards said, “This latest volume of PISA powerfully demonstrates that equity works. Students' learning is enhanced, and the effects of disadvantage disappear when schools get the right resources, but shortages of teachers and support staff significantly undermine that learning. It's something that teachers have known for a long time but it's good to have confirmation from PISA.”

“I welcome the acknowledgement by the OECD that smaller class sizes and schools being in the public sector are better for student achievement.”

“However, I'm deeply concerned about the impact of social media on young people's understanding of what is fact and fiction. Teachers have to battle day in day out against the torrent of misinformation to which students are subject.”

“Looked at through the lens of the pandemic crisis, PISA underlines how important it is for governments to maintain properly resourced public education systems dedicated to meeting the needs of all students including enhancing their critical awareness of the world in which they live”.