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NAHT: Young people in England pay a heavy price for their academic success

  • Stats on well-being are ‘nothing to be proud of’ and ‘tarnish’ the academic success
  • Politicians ‘must not be blind to the difference between reading for PISA and reading for pleasure’
  • Results could have been higher if the government had made education and young people a priority over the last ten years


This morning, the results of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey show England’s pupils continue to climb the international league tables, particularly in mathematics. 

However, England should be much less proud of its record on well-being with 66% of pupils reporting that they sometimes or always feel worried and 53% of pupils reporting sometimes or always feeling miserable (compared to 50% and 39% of pupils across the OECD, respectively). 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, the union which represents leaders in the majority of England’s schools, said: “Given the very difficult circumstances in which they have been forced to operate over the past ten years, teachers and school leaders deserve huge praise for sustaining, and even improving England’s performance compared to other nations. 

“But these results have come despite the system rather than because of it – and at what cost? Imagine how much more we could have achieved if the government had made education and young people a priority over the last ten years. The impressive statistics around maths are tarnished by the worryingly high percentages of miserable and worried pupils.

“It is also striking to see that although England’s reading scores are good, pupils in England are less likely to read for pleasure than their OECD counterparts. Functional literacy is one thing but reading for pleasure is one of the most profound gifts an education system can give to its students.

“As the National Literacy trust reported this week more than 380,000 children in the UK do not own any books. Too many are missing out on the power reading has to transform enjoyment and mental well-being. Politicians should not be blind to the difference between reading for PISA and reading for pleasure.

“These PISA results will almost certainly be weaponised by the various political parties in order to defend or attack each other’s policies. We’d urge all parties to refrain from this and instead consider the children at the heart of these statistics and the dedicated professionals behind them. 

“There are few guarantees of success, but the most successful PISA nations make sure that their governments follow similar priorities to the ones we have outlined throughout this election campaign.”

NAHT urges all parties to make education central to their plans for government in 2020:

  • A fully and fairly funded education system where the real-terms cuts since 2010 are reversed and there’s guaranteed long term investment
  • Great teachers and leaders in every class and every school with the support, development and reward to sustain a career in education  
  • Proportionate, reliable and fair inspection that schools and parents can have confidence in
  • A broad and balanced curriculum available to all pupils that gives children and young people different ways to show what they can do and properly prepares them for life
  • Timely and effective support from the services that children and families rely on so that all pupils get the help they need and achieve their potential.


Press and Media contacts:

Steven George
NAHT Head of Press and Media
01444 472886
07970 907730

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

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