Which of the statements below is correct?
a) The ortho and para positions are more active than the meta position.
b) The ortho and para positions are activated while the meta position is deactivated.
As the figure below illustrates, substituents on aromatic rings that are electron donating like the methyl and t-butyl groups (and also the hydroxy group [e.g. phenol]) increase the reaction rate at all positions (ortho, meta and para) relative to benzene.
On the other hand, electron withdrawing substituents (the chlorine and ester carbonyl examples) decrease the reaction rate at all positions relative to benzene.
So for phenol, or any other electron donating substituent, while the meta position does react more slowly than the ortho and para positions, it still reacts faster than benzene. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that the meta position is deactivated. Only when the rate at a given position is less than the rate for a single position in benzene could one say that the position is deactivated.
Statement "a" in your question is correct.
For future reference a note on terminology. The above figure tells us that nitration of toluene proceeds 24.5 times faster than the nitration of benzene; that is to say that the relative rate for nitration of toluene is 24.5 times greater than benzene. The meta position in toluene reacts 3 times faster than a single position in benzene, this is referred to as the partial rate factor.