Scotland’s schools’ PISA scores drop to lowest level

Written by Tom Freeman on 6 December 2016 in News

Scotland slips down global league table for key education assessment

John Swinney, Shawlands Academy - Scottish Government

Scotland has dropped in international world rankings for maths, reading and science, according to the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) figures.

Pupils from 109 schools across Scotland were tested in 2015, and recorded lower scores in all three areas than in any previous PISA survey.

Reading has fallen to the OECD average in 2015 and is below the 2006 level. The survey began in 2000.


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In science, Scotland has declined since 2012, while in maths the scores are similar to 2012, but down compared with 2006.

Compared to other OECD countries Scotland remains within the statistical average, but has moved backwards against some countries, including England and Northern Ireland.

The overall highest performer is Singapore.

John Swinney is due to give a statement to parliament at 14.30 on the results.

“There is great strength in Scottish education but these results underline the case for radical reform of Scotland's education system,” he said.

“The results undoubtedly make uncomfortable reading but they contain a plain message: we must continue to make the changes that are necessary to strengthen Scottish education.

“We must recognise that while PISA is only now being published, it dates from the period in which our own statistics on literacy and numeracy were published and prompted our current programme of reform. Both sets of figures tell us the same thing. Reform is essential.

Last year the OECD conducted a review of Scottish education and recommended a rethink of the Curriculum for Excellence and how it is governed.

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: "Children going through our schools under the SNP are finishing their school careers less equipped in basic skills and performing less well than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, and in a host of other countries across the world.

“This is the SNP’s responsibility, and it very much deserves to feel the heat on this most critical of matters.”

Scottish Labour said the SNP government would be wrong to use the results as political cover to centralise education services in Scotland.

Education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “The SNP government in Edinburgh should halt these damaging plans and instead use the parliament’s powers to invest in our schools, ensuring they have enough teachers and support staff to reverse this decline.

“Nothing else will repair the damage of a decade of SNP government to our education system.

“If the budget next week contains hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local education budget then it will be clear that the SNP’s promise to prioritise education was nothing more than pre-election spin.”

However, teaching union the EIS warned against making “snap judgements” about the results, as the tests had taken place during the “major upheaval” of the introduction of new qualifications.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “S3 to S4 is precisely the area which the EIS has previously highlighted as the least well implemented area of CfE and one where considerable development work is already underway.”

He added, “The need for continuing investment in education is made clear, however, by this report."

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