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Scotland ‘standing still’ in schools league table

The survey tested some 3,000 S4 pupils in 111 Scottish schools. Picture: Getty

The survey tested some 3,000 S4 pupils in 111 Scottish schools. Picture: Getty

  • by CHRIS MARSHALL
 

THE performance of Scottish school pupils in maths, reading and science has stalled.

A report by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed mean scores in literacy and numeracy were roughly in line with those recorded when the exercise was last carried out in 2009.

But while Scotland continues to lag behind leading nations such as China, Japan and Korea, it still outperforms the rest of the UK in maths and reading.

PISA tested more than half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries last year. While Scotland scored better than the UK average in reading and maths, it was below average and outperformed by England in science.

Scotland recorded mean scores in maths, reading and science of 498, 506 and 513 respectively. The corresponding scores in 2009 were 499, 500 and 514.

The survey tested some 3,000 S4 pupils in 111 Scottish schools, and it showed the country’s performance in maths and reading had improved relative to other OECD countries. But two more countries than in 2009 outperformed Scotland in science.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh University, said: “The key thing here is that nothing much has improved. At best, you could say Scotland is standing still.

“When the statistics came out last time around, the SNP said they had halted the decline. That may be, but what we can’t say is that there has been any progress.”

Prof Paterson said it was still too early to chart the impact of the Curriculum for Excellence, which was introduced in Scottish schools in 2010.

And he cautioned against trying to “cherry pick” ideas from other countries. “You can’t just import ideas from elsewhere,” he said. “Other countries have different forms of childcare, different ideas around parental leave and different labour markets.

“The idea that there’s some list of things you can bring over from Finland or the Netherlands is really very dubious. However, if Scottish politicians want to go and learn from other countries, that is a good thing.

“It’s just that best ideas are often done at a classroom level, not a country level.”

Learning minister Alasdair Allan said: “Scottish school attainment remains strong, particularly in science and reading.

“We are performing at least as well as a number of significant world economies across all three areas, reinforcing our international standing in education. There is also clear evidence the attainment gap is being addressed, with a reduction in the variation in performance between those pupils classed as disadvantaged and those who aren’t.

“Today’s figures follow a record 89.5 per cent of school leavers remaining in positive destinations and Scotland’s best-ever exam pass rates from earlier this year. And while we know that Scottish education is good, we want it to get even better.”

Ann Mroz, editor of the Times Educational Supplement, said: “The rise of East Asia is one of the more fascinating aspects of the latest PISA rankings. The dominance of this region is now complete. However, this is not about tired generalisations of culture, rote-learning and so-called tiger mothers. There is much we can learn from other countries’ education systems.”

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