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As PISA releases first international rankings for ‘collaborative problem solving’, new poll reveals nearly half of teachers don’t understand what it is

Today, for the first time, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has released international rankings measuring ‘collaborative problem solving’ - the ability to solve problems together - alongside its existing rankings for maths, science and reading.

A poll of teachers in England published this morning by innovation foundation Nesta, reveals only 54% have a clear idea of what collaborative problem solving means, despite the OECD asserting the importance of such ‘21st century skills’ if the UK is to compete on the global stage.

The poll also finds 67% of teachers don’t think the UK’s education system is currently equipping young people with 21st century skills, such as creativity and collaborative problem solving.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills says, “In today’s schools, students typically learn individually, and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more it needs great collaborators and orchestrators. Innovation is now rarely the product of individuals working in isolation; instead, it is an outcome of how we mobilise, share and integrate knowledge. This has motivated PISA to include collaborative problem-solving in the PISA assessment, and the new technology-based delivery platform for PISA is now making that possible”

Geoff Mulgan, chief executive at Nesta says, “Some of the most important skills needed now and in the future are missing from government education policy and from school curriculums. This blind spot will prove costly for young people and for the UK. As this poll shows many teachers realise this is a problem that urgently needs to be fixed. Other countries - like Finland - have grasped how important it is for students to learn how to collaborate in solving problems’

The poll reveals a range of barriers are preventing group problem solving from becoming more entrenched in the UK education system. Lack of training is a key issue, with 79% of teachers saying they couldn’t remember ever having had training in how to incorporate collaborative problem solving into their lessons.

Forty seven percent of teachers perceived behavioural management as being the greatest obstacle to implementing collaborative problem solving in the classroom. A further 26% said it is too time consuming.

This demonstrates the need for lesson plans, training and resources to be made available, as detailed in Nesta’s report earlier this year, Solved! Making the case for collaborative problem solving. This report found that

Interestingly, 25% of teachers said they didn’t think schools should teach ‘21st century skills’ or didn’t think that it was a priority, and only 13% thought the UK would come in the top 20 in PISA’s rankings.

It is crucial that future skills are incorporated into the education system in a structured way to break down barriers and change attitudes. Nesta’s research into the future labour market, in partnership with Pearson, evidences that, against the backdrop of increased job automation, complex human abilities (those which combine cognitive and social skills, such as collaborative problem-solving) will be in the greatest demand in the future workforce, and this should be reflected in the education system.


For more information contact Juliet Grant in Nesta’s press office on 020 7438 2668 or 07866 949047, [email protected]

Notes to editors

About Nesta

Nesta is a global innovation foundation. We back new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time, making use of our knowledge, networks, funding and skills. We work in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. We are a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment. To find out more visit

Nesta is a registered charity in England and Wales 1144091 and Scotland SC042833.

Notes on the sample

Teachers subscribing to the Teacher Tapp app, which gives them three questions followed by professional development advice each day, answered these questions on dates between 02/11/2017 and 07/11/2017. Response numbers varied depending on day, from a minimum of 1146 to a maximum of 1233. 66% of the respondents were secondary school teachers.

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