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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Xander Elliards

Scotland's education scores decline with global trends, Pisa scores show

SCOTLAND has seen declines in performance across reading, science, and mathematics in line with global trends, according to the latest international figures.

Despite a fall, the Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) performance tables show Scotland’s scores are “not statistically different” from the OECD average in maths or science, and are above the OECD average for reading.

However, the country is behind the UK average for all science and maths but not statistically different for reading, according to the scores for 2022 which were published on Tuesday.

The 2022 scores reflect education during the Covid pandemic, and show a global pattern of decline.

Usually run every three years, the last Pisa results were published in 2018. Since then, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average scores for reading, science, and mathematics have all declined.

The OECD average score for reading has dropped from 486 to 476 (-10), for maths from 487 to 472 (-15), and for science from 487 to 485 (-2).

Scotland has followed a similar trajectory. Since 2018, its average score for reading has dropped from 504 to 493 (-11), for maths from 489 to 471 (-18), and for science from 490 to 483 (-7).

For the UK as a whole, its average score for reading has dropped from 504 to 494 (-10), for maths from 502 to 489 (-13), and for science from 505 to 500 (-5).

The results suggest that Scotland’s performance has dropped more rapidly than the OECD or UK averages across all three subjects since the last Pisa tests.

A drop of 15 score points is the equivalent to three-quarters of a year’s worth of learning, according to the OECD report.

According to the official Pisa performance tables, Scotland’s scores are “not statistically different” than the OECD average in maths or science, and is above the OECD average for reading.

The international picture

The 2022 Pisa scores recorded an "unprecedented drop in performance” across many countries compared with 2018.

Singapore bucked the trend, topping all three categories.

The UK has climbed the rankings in maths to joint 12th, alongside Belgium, Denmark and Poland, up from joint 17th in 2018.

In reading, the UK has also risen to 13th, up from joint 14th in 2018.

In science, the UK was ranked joint 14th, alongside Slovenia – the same ranking achieved in 2018.

Scotland is not included on the international performance table provided by the OECD, but its scores can be inserted manually.

Scotland's reading score of 493 would put it 14th in the global rankings, one behind the UK as a whole. Its maths score of 471 puts it joint 30th, alongside Italy.

And Scotland's science score of 483 puts it joint 19th, alongside Switzerland.

First run in 2000, Pisa is an assessment of 15 year-olds’ skills in mathematics, reading and science. In 2022, 81 countries and around 690,000 students took part. This included around 3300 students from 117 schools in Scotland, according to the Scottish Government.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD education and skills director, said: “In the last four years, since 2018, the drop in UK results is slightly less than across OECD countries. So the ranking has improved but the results did not.

“The decline in outcomes has been slower than on average across OECD countries. In that sense, the UK has been relatively more successful.”

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth (above) said: “As is well understood, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our young people and their experience of learning and teaching. Pisa demonstrates this impact across the majority of countries participating.

“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 Cosla [Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] to address jointly in responding.

“Since Pisa was conducted [in October and December 2022], wider evidence from both the 2023 national qualification results and the most recent literacy and numeracy data for primary, show clear evidence of an ongoing recovery which we are determined to build on.

“Our participation in Pisa provides valuable information to support educational improvement; that will be further strengthened by our decision earlier this year to re-join the Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLs) studies.

“I will provide parliament with a full update next week, reflecting on both Pisa and the 2023 national literacy and numeracy data, which is based on teacher judgment.”

Andrea Bradley, the general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union, said: “Across the OECD, average scores in reading, maths and science are lower, this pointing to the detrimental impact of the Covid pandemic on learning and the shortcomings of governmental responses to education recovery.”

She went on: “We know that Scotland has amongst the largest average class size and highest teacher class-contact time commitments of countries within the OECD, and those are nettles that the Scottish Government will have to grasp if they are serious about delivering a better educational experience for Scotland’s young people, particularly in the wake of Covid disruption and the ongoing damage done by poverty and inequality."

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