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03 December 2019
PISA: Scottish schools performance in maths and science at record low


PISA: Scottish schools performance in maths and science at record low

Scotland’s score for reading improved in the latest PISA report, returning to a level similar to 2012 after a drop in 2015, but for maths and science there has been a decline in score with each PISA survey since 2003 for maths and 2006 for science

Scotland has received its worst ever score in maths and science in a major international comparative study of education.

Scotland’s score for reading improved in the latest PISA report, returning to a level similar to 2012 after a drop in 2015, but for maths and science there has been a decline in score with each PISA survey since 2003 for maths and 2006 for science.

However, when compared with other countries in the study, Scotland was above average in reading and around average in maths and science.

Within the UK, Scotland scored better at reading than Northern Ireland but got a lower score than England and Northern Ireland on maths and science.

England was best performing across all areas of the UK.

The research comes from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study which is carried out every three years, with the latest report, published on Tuesday, covering performance in 2018.

It involved testing 600,000 15-year-olds from 79 countries in reading, science and maths and polling them on a range of attitudes towards education and future work.

PISA is designed to allow for education systems in different countries to be compared, and the tests are created to be ‘culturally neutral’.

China, Singapore and Macau topped the international rankings in the three main areas.

The UK as a whole was ranked 14th in reading, 18th in maths and 14th in science – all above the OECD average.

Pupils were also surveyed on their feelings towards school and their expectations for the future.

Almost two-thirds of Scottish pupils said they felt like they “belong in school”, which is lower than the international average but higher than the UK-wide figure.

Asked about whether they expect to enter certain professions in the future, 10.7 per cent indicated a science and engineering job; 13.1 percent for healthcare and 3.9 per cent for ICT.

Across these areas there was a notable difference between boys and girls, with a higher percentage of boys aiming for science and engineering and ICT and a higher percentage of girls indicating a choice of healthcare.

For ICT it was found that 7.3 per cent of boys wanted to enter the profession in the future while only 0.8 per cent of girls said the same.

Pupils’ views on teachers were generally positive, while headteachers themselves reported favourable views of teaching colleagues.

But 46.3 per cent of headteachers surveyed said that a lack of teaching staff had affected the school to some extent.

Commenting on the results, the Scottish Conservatives said that the drop in score for maths and science was “damning” of the Scottish Government’s approach to education.

Scottish Conservatives education spokesperson Liz Smith said: “Performance in maths and science is absolutely vital for the future of Scotland's economy and for industries such as engineering and IT.

“These results are a humiliation for the SNP and they also mean that the potential of Scotland’s economy has been tarnished.

“After the last set of poor PISA results, the SNP said that the curriculum had to change.

“Yet these results are a new low and we know there have been many failings within the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence.

“It is not just time to change the curriculum but also to change the government in Scotland.”

Scottish Labour said the results show a “slow decline” in Scotland’s educational standards.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, Iain Gray, said: “The small improvement in reading is welcome, but further falls in maths and science are alarming.  

“In every area performance has deteriorated under the SNP.  John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon have been warned again and again that we have a problem with STEM subjects being squeezed out of the curriculum but they refuse to listen.

“These are the critical skills our next generation need for the jobs of the future.”

The Scottish Greens said that international comparisons should “rarely be taken at face value” and instead suggested Scotland’s own historical performance is more important.

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “Years of budget cuts, thousands of lost teaching and support staff and a near total failure to support children with additional needs are at the root of many of the problems our still relatively robust education system now faces.

“The major barrier now is an SNP government unwilling to address these problems and which is instead still pursuing governance reforms so unnecessary, unwelcome and unhelpful they couldn't even get them through parliament."

Education Secretary John Swinney said: “These are very encouraging results and the latest sign that our education reforms are working. Scottish schools are improving and this international study confirms that.

“Reading underpins all learning, and the sharp rise in performance is good news.

“The improvement has been driven by great teachers and well-supported pupils, but also our unrelenting focus on improving literacy through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Fund. Those efforts are now paying dividends, with only five countries scoring higher than Scotland at reading.

“The figures on social background also confirm that we are closing the gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds.

“Maths and science scores are stable at the OECD average, so we need to see the kind of improvement that we now see in literacy in these areas too. That is the challenge.

“An inspection of maths and numeracy published by Education Scotland shows what is working and how we can improve. It will help as we move on the next phase of driving up standards in Scotland’s schools.

“And, in science, good progress has been made with delivery of our five-year STEM strategy, with the roll-out of career-long professional learning grants and new online resources for teachers. The impact of it will only just be beginning to be felt on the ground and we will continue to push for the improvements that we know can be made.

“There is plenty of work still to do to improve Scottish education but today’s report should give people a strong sense that we are on the right track, making substantial progress and seeing results where it counts – in the classroom.”

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