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Scotland falls behind England in global education study

Thousands of Scottish teenagers took part in the Pisa report

Scotland falls behind England in global education study

Scotland's educational performance is slipping down global rankings as scores fall in maths, reading and science.

The Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) report, which measures performance across around 700,000 15-year-olds in 81 nations, has found a decline in all three subject areas among Scottish high school pupils.

Maths results were down 18 points, with a drop of 11 in reading and seven in science.

The declines are larger than those recorded for England and for the UK as a whole, and also mean Scotland is for the first time behind OECD averages in maths and science.

Produced every three years, this Pisa study is the first to measure the performance of children whose learning was disrupted by the pandemic.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), which runs Pisa, said there was an "unprecedented drop" in performance, on average, between its 2018 and 2022 studies.

they are swimming against a tide of cuts

Scottish ministers said that period had a "profound impact" on education and that recovery is under way.

Andrea Bradley, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: "Across the OECD, average scores in reading, maths and science are lower, pointing to the detrimental impact of the Covid pandemic on learning and the shortcomings of governmental responses to education recovery. 

"Scotland’s schools and teachers continue to strive to provide the best possible learning experiences for all young people but increasingly they are swimming against a tide of cuts, which threatens now to be a tidal wave unless the Scottish Government makes different decisions on spending and revenue raising to properly fund education."

Across the UK, Wales performed worst on all subjects while England did the best. Scotland was higher than Northern Ireland on reading but lower on maths and science.

Andreas Schleicher, of the OECD's directorate of education and skills, said Covid disruption was a factor but mobile phone "disruption" and parental support should also be considered.

He said: "We can see that students’ use of smart phones was quite clearly linked in Scotland, but also in other countries, to greater student anxiety, to more disruption, to less concentration.

"Even many students in Scotland said 'my neighbour is using their smart phone during a lesson and I can't concentrate'.

"So clearly the use of technology for leisure may have played an equal role as the pandemic, but we can't disentangle, we just see the overall results." 

there will be key learning for the Scottish Government

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth, a former teacher, said the Pisa results demonstrate the impact of Covid "across the majority of countries participating".

She went on: "Whilst every country in the UK has seen a reduction in its Pisa scores across maths and reading between 2018 and 2022, there will be key learning for the Scottish government and [council umbrella body] Cosla to address jointly in responding.

"Since the Pisa survey was conducted wider evidence, national exam pass rates and literacy and numeracy data for primary schools, show clear evidence of an ongoing recovery which we are determined to build on."

However, Professor Lindsay Paterson of the University of Edinburgh pointed to "longer-term decline" in Scottish scores since 2012, saying the Curriculum for Excellence reforms to lessons had begun to "impinge significantly on children's learning" at that time.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP commented: "Scotland used to have one of the best education systems in the world, but under the SNP it is now just average. We have tumbled down the international rankings and the poverty-related attainment gap is as wide as ever.

"The SNP have squandered the big global advantage Scotland held in education and are now left celebrating being average.

"A worldwide pandemic doesn’t explain why Scotland is falling down the worldwide education rankings and falling behind England on every measure. The pandemic was global too. Instead, these figures show the impact of their failure, over many years, to put in place a proper recovery plan for Scotland’s young people."

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