Basic numeracy skills falling in Scottish schools

Opposition says falling numeracy skills 'no surprise'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Opposition says falling numeracy skills 'no surprise'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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basic numeracy skills among Scottish youngsters are falling, a nationwide classroom survey has found.

More than a third – 34 per cent – of children in second year at secondary were “not yet working within the level” ­expected, up from 32 per cent in the last study in 2011.

Primary four and seven pupils performed worse in 2013 than in 2011, the official figures reveal.

The shortcomings are “no surprise”, according to opposition leaders, who say schools are going in the “wrong direction” as classes sizes grow and teacher numbers fall.

The subjects pupils were tested on included fractions, decimal fractions and percentages, as well as money, time and measurement.

The proportion of children doing well or very well dropped from 76 per cent to 69 per cent in P4 and from 72 per cent to 66 per cent in P7, according to the Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy (SSLN).

Labour education spokeswoman Kezia Dugdale said: “These figures are a wake-up call for the Scottish Government. We can’t be complacent and we can’t let this deterioration ­continue.”

The study also revealed major gaps in attainment between those who lived in deprived areas, and those in the wealthiest. More than half – 52.4 per cent – of S2s from the poorest zones are failing to reach ­expected levels, a figure that has worsened from 2011 when the number was 44 per cent.

Schools minister Alasdair Allan said there was clearly a problem in S2 and announced an extra £1 million to improve numeracy. The money will go towards “numeracy hubs” which help schools and councils work together.

He referred to other “positive” findings including programme for international student assessment (Pisa) figures and recent school inspections.

The minister added: “The picture that emerges in these figures is one of very few pupils at P4 or P7 not working within the expected level, yet there is a clear issue by S2.”

Tory MSP Mary Scanlon said the existing school structure in Scotland needed to change.

She said: “These statistics are further proof that all is not well in Scottish education when it comes to the crucial matter of improving literacy and ­numeracy. The fact there remains a significant drop in competency between primary and secondary school is a real worry.”

The SSLN is an annual sample survey which monitors the ­national performance of schoolchildren at P4, P7 and S2, in ­literacy and numeracy in alternate years.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said he was “alarmed” by the findings. He added: “Parents will be concerned that in terms of numeracy, the figures are going in the wrong direction on the education secretary’s watch.

“This is a basic skill which our children need to get on in life. It is alarming.”

The situation for children from more deprived backgrounds is “particularly stark”, he added, with the attainment gap on numeracy wider growing ever wider.

He said: “Our schools and teachers work tirelessly to educate pupils and give them the tools they need to get on in life. But with bigger class sizes, fewer teachers and pupil-teacher ratios heading in the wrong direction, it is no surprise this is having an impact on pupil learning.”