Now, the results for Shanghai were actually published back in 2009, but the Chinese government has been reluctant to allow publication of results from other part of the country. Apparently, though, other parts of China also performed very strongly in PISA tests, even in areas where general living conditions remain quite poor. Poor provinces came out well, and it also turned out that differences in attainment between rich and poor pupils were surprisingly small. Reportedly, an underlying factor in these results is the idea of education as the key to social mobility and success, very deeply rooted in Chinese culture more or less regardless of social background.
Two points about the Shanghai results are of particular interest. First, the city has steadily advanced up the league table over the past 15 years, presumably the result of deliberate policies to foster high educational standards. Second, as the best performing region in the world, Shanghai's performance is now substantially above the OECD average performance, placing Shanghai in a strong position to do well economically in future years - assuming we accept the idea that a strong education system often underpins future economic growth.
In contrast, the UK's performance stands at around the OECD average in reading and mathematics, a little above the OECD average for science. This is not terrible, but it's not brilliant either. If the UK wishes to be a prosperous and competitive economy in 10 or 20 years time, it would certainly help if we could raise educational standards in our schools. In part this is a matter for government policy, and much is already being done in that area; in part, though, it is also a matter for popular culture. In other words, we somehow need to get across to people the basic idea that education is the key both to individual success and achievement, and to the UK's wider economic success.