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by Louise Wilson
12 December 2023
Scotland must ‘disrupt Pisa trajectory’ says education secretary

Jenny Gilruth is a former teacher | Alamy

Scotland must ‘disrupt Pisa trajectory’ says education secretary

Scotland’s education secretary has said she will “disrupt the Pisa trajectory” as she committed to a review of the curriculum in a bid to drive up attainment in schools.

Jenny Gilruth also warned councils that ring-fenced funding could be withheld if teacher numbers are not protected.

The statement to parliament comes a week after an international study revealed educational performance in Scotland had slipped down global rankings.

The Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) report found reductions in Scottish results across maths, reading and science – and for the first time put Scotland behind the OECD averages in maths and science.

The education secretary said the matter was “not unique” to Scotland as Covid had had a profound impact on pupils around the world, but nonetheless she committed to making improvements to the curriculum.

This update will begin next year focusing first on maths, led by a subject specialist. It will also include a thematic inspection of maths lessons led by the chief schools inspector.

Gilruth said: “The experience of education has changed for our young people, their teachers, parents and carers. Covid has had a profound impact in attendance, behaviour and achievement. But fundamentally we need to disrupt the Pisa trajectory and drive improvements across school education.”

Fresh statistics published by the Scottish Government today also found a reduction in teacher numbers in Scotland.

The number of school teachers fell by 128 between 2022 and 2023, despite ministers providing additional funding for this purpose.

However, the decrease was not uniform, with 15 local authorities increasing teacher numbers and 17 seeing a reduction. The biggest falls were in East Ayrshire, Glasgow and Moray.

Gilruth said the failure to maintain or increase teacher numbers in these areas was “extremely disappointing” and confirmed she had written to all 17 councils.

Councils that do not protect teacher numbers could see funding withheld.

The cabinet secretary also addressed the matter of mobile phones in schools, saying that while she cannot “unilaterally ban” devices, the government would put out fresh guidance which would empower headteachers to take appropriate action, including bans where appropriate.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr warned that withholding cash as uncertainty “isn't going to improve matters”.

Speaking after the statement, he added: “Scottish students and teaching staff have suffered the consequences of the SNP’s 16 years of failure.

“The SNP Government has left teachers languishing on temporary contracts, forced councils to rely on probationers, yet the minister reiterated her threat to withhold money from councils without increased teacher numbers – at a time when local councils are on their knees begging for funding.” 

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