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Editor's comment

As ever with international surveys (p1), we need two things - a health warning and a balanced scorecard. There will always be factors in each country which affect surveys such as Timss: the dominance of the Pacific Rim countries suggests that cultural factors may be at work. It is also worth remembering that there are other surveys and other results: post-16 participation rates for maths and science in Scotland are "very considerably greater" than in the rest of the UK, the Royal Society reminded us recently.

There are issues, too, about how schools and pupils are selected for these international assessments, and whether they test accurately what pupils are actually being taught. And then there are the scores themselves: Scotland, for example, is 26 points behind England in S2 maths. This may be statistically significant, but is it significant?

So there has to be some perspective. There was little from the Government, which preferred to highlight the negative and pin the blame on its predecessors. None the less, the latest Timss report does make for depressing, even worrying, reading. The future of science has probably dominated the schools agenda more than any other subject, with the possible exception of modern languages. Yet, the Timss score for P5 science is 14 points lower than in 1995; for S2, it has declined by 16 points since 2003.

It is debatable whether the new curriculum will improve these outcomes. But the "factors associated with higher achievement" in maths and science, set out in the Timss report, do point the way forward. Among these are highly educated parents, the internet at home, positive attitudes towards the subjects, attending schools with fewer students from disadvantaged backgrounds, well-resourced departments, and teachers who are happy in their work.

These factors are all familiar - not rocket science. But it appears from the Timss findings that Scotland has yet to come to terms with some, if not all, of them.

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