Analysis: SNP ministers braced for Pisa results amid mounting frustration within 'paralysed' Scottish education

Calls for change will grow this week if Scotland’s Pisa performance continues to slide

Scottish ministers will be anxious as they await the publication of the OECD’s Pisa scores for maths, reading and science.

Since 2006, the performance of the nation’s 15-year-olds has fallen from being the best in the UK to being significantly behind England, with particularly sharp drops recorded in results for science and maths.

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As experts have told The Scotsman in advance of the results for the 2022 tests, due to be published tomorrow, further falls are predicted in a lot of countries as a result of the disruptions to education during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Humza Yousaf arrives at Holyrood with Jenny Gilruth on Tuesday January 10, 2023.Humza Yousaf arrives at Holyrood with Jenny Gilruth on Tuesday January 10, 2023.
Humza Yousaf arrives at Holyrood with Jenny Gilruth on Tuesday January 10, 2023.

However, while many in education find "league tables” unhelpful, there will be much scrutiny of Scotland’s results in comparison to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where lockdown rules were similar.

The results will also be published at a time of growing concern over Scottish education’s direction, or lack thereof.

After their appointment in March, First Minister Humza Yousaf and Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth pledged to rejoin the Trends in International Mathematics and Science (Timss) and Progress in International Reading Literacy (Pirls) studies.

The decision was welcomed by many. Previous Education Secretary Michael Russell had controversially quit the data schemes in 2010 citing cost, leaving Pisa as the only remaining study of its kind involving Scotland.

However, Pirls and Timss reports in 2006 and 2007 had begun to highlight deteriorating standards in Scottish schools, and fears about the downward trend appeared to be confirmed by subsequent Pisa scores.

At the same time, there has been an escalating sense of frustration over the way Curriculum for Excellence has been implemented in some areas since 2010.

In recent weeks and months, unrest has only intensified as a programme of reform has stalled, including proposals to overhaul of the nation’s qualifications system, which were backed by most school leaders.

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Local education chiefs warned that a series of reports on the future of Scottish education have effectively “paralysed” the system.

Meanwhile, many teachers and other staff in schools appear to feel largely unsupported in their efforts to deal with a worsening pupil attendance and behaviour, an issue which hit the headlines last week.

Calls for urgent change will only get louder this week if the downturn in Scotland’s Pisa performance continues unabated.



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