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PISA 2015 Results. Student Well-Being. Volume 3.
Education International Comments


On Wednesday April 19th, the OECD is releasing its third volume of the PISA 2015 results.

This volume focuses on the results of its student questionnaire which accompanied the main student assessment. The main take-aways are as follows:

  • The OECD’s definition of life satisfaction focuses on students’ psychological, cognitive, social and physical capabilities. Well-being is defined as the quality of life of 15 year old students.(Page 38)
  • Students’ perceptions of assessment as more or less threatening determines how anxious students feel about tests (Page 40)
  • On a gender basis girls have the greatest motivation to succeed. Disadvantaged students have the least motivation to succeed. Immigrant students have a greater motivation to succeed than non-immigrant students. (Page 43)
  • On average across OECD countries, 11% of students reported they were bullied (Page 45) On average across OECD countries, boys were more likely to report being bullied in all forms of bullying except being left out of things on purpose and being the object of nasty rumours. (Page 137)
    Bullying can both stem from and may exacerbate students’ disengagement with school and underperformance. (Page 139)
  • Consistently student interactions with their parents influence students’ achievements (Page  48) Parents’ activities that typically take place at home or in the context of the family, namely ‘discussing how well my child is doing at school’, ‘eating the main meal around a table’ and ‘spending time just talking to my child’ are all positively related to the child’s science performance in PISA. ‘Helping my child with homework’ and ‘obtaining science related materials’ are negatively related with such performance. (Page 159) Governments can provide incentives to employers who adopt work-life policies so that parents have adequate time to attend to their children’s needs. (Page 169)
  • Students in upper secondary schools reported pending almost half a day less on physical education than students in lower secondary schools. (Page 51) Countries where students do more physical activity tend to perform better in PISA. (Page 192) More boys than girls report that they spend more time on physical activity inside and outside school. Advantaged students spend more time on physical activity outside school than disadvantaged students (Page 52)
  • Too many students spend too much time on the internet. 26% say they spend over six hours during weekends and 16% during weekdays (Page 57) Students who spend more than six hours on line per weekday outside of school were more likely to report that they are not satisfied with their life or that they feel lonely at school, and were less proficient in science than students who spend fewer hours on line. (Page 220)
  • There is no evident relationship between adolescents’ life satisfaction and a country’s/economy’s GDP ( in contrast to adults’) (Page 70)
  • On average 29% of girls and 39% of boys are very satisfied with their lives. (72)
  • With the exception of a small number of countries including Finland and the Netherlands on average students in ‘low-achieving countries’ tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction than students in ‘high-achieving countries.’ (Page 73)
  • The fear of making mistakes on a test often disrupts the performance of top performing students who ‘choke under pressure.’ The UK and Iceland have the greatest levels of school work related anxiety. (Page 87)
  • Students report greater anxiety if they attend more competitive schools. (Page 88)
  • Students are less likely to show test anxiety of teachers provide individual help. (Page 99).
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are much less likely to complete a university degree. ( Page 106)
  • The majority of students feel they belong to their school community. However in several countries students’ sense of belonging has weakened since 2003. (Page 118). Across OECD countries students’ sense of belonging has deteriorated between 2012 and 2015. (Page 119) There is an association between feelings of belonging at school and academic achievement. The relationship between belonging at school and performance in PISA is strong for those students with the least sense of belonging- eg achievement is negatively affected by lack of a sense of belonging.(Page 122). Low satisfaction with life is four times higher in Finland, the UK, the Netherlands and Ireland if students did not feel they belong. (Page 124)
  • Family wealth is more strongly related to student performance in countries with relatively high income inequality than in countries with relatively low income inequality. Life satisfaction is associated with a student’s relative status at school, as measured by the difference between his or her wealth and the wealth of other students in the school. (Page 174)
  • Students who work for pay tend to score lower in science than those who do not work for pay. Disadvantaged students are about 6 percentage points more likely to work for pay than advantaged students. Students who work for pay were more likely…to report feeling like an outsider at school, having lower expectations of further education, arriving late for school, and skipping school. (Page 212)

OECD Policy Headlines. (Pages 231-241)

  • Identify and share good practices to raise intrinsic motivation to succeed.
  • Give students the means to take well-informed decisions for their future studies.
  • Provide effective teacher training on classroom and relationship management.
  • Prevent bullying and provide support to victims, bullies and bystanders.
  • Encourage parental involvement and remove barriers to participation in school activities.
  • Address the impact of socio-economic inequalities on students’ perceptions about themselves and their aspirations for the future.
  • Teach the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle through physical and health education.
  • Promote healthy and productive use of the internet.


There are some genuinely new insights in PISA 2015’s report on student well-being. A sense of belonging at school for students is fundamentally important for their achievement and happiness. In fact the concept of ‘the happy school’ highlights how important schools and their teachers are to young people’s lives. PISA emphasises the vital role of schools in their communities.The idea that schools and teachers can somehow be substituted by MOOCs and out-of-school learning is implicitly but fundamentally rejected by the report.

What also stands out is how low life satisfaction is linked to socially disadvantaged students and their feeling of being outsiders in schools. While OECD may not find an automatic link between low-life satisfaction and levels of country performance, the poisonous triangulation between student social disadvantage, low life satisfaction and being an outsider explains why schools in some areas need additional financial and material support.

The findings that parents have a massive social responsibility in engaging their children are not surprising but they do point to the need for social policy (also linked to promoting a better work-life balance) alongside school policies to provide support to families under stress including families that experience unemployment.

Test anxiety is clearly identified as undermining student achievement and stands a clear critique of excessive and unnecessary tests.

Findings such as those on bullying, gender differences in life satisfaction and the alienating effect of excessive internet use are important insights.

However there are caveats that need to made about the report. PISA 2015 did not factor in the views of teachers from the PISA teacher questionnaire. While the student and parent questionnaires included questions relating to the social role of parents they did not include questions on cultural advantages/disadvantages at home experienced by students. In contrast to its insights, the report’s policy proposals mostly constitute a mere wish list. Specific proposals, such as Governments needing to incentivise employers to enhance parents’ work-life balance are in the minority.

Imprecations that teachers must try harder do not constitute a strategy or an analysis. There is nothing in the report on the damaging impact of aggressive evaluation regimes on teachers, nor on the implications for the curriculum and staffing of its important calls to enhance student well-being and belonging at schools.

However one thing is clear from the report. The need for an urgent study on teachers’ well-being and its relationship with student well-being is greatly enhanced by these findings.